Role of the Manager: Manage, Lead, or Manage and Lead?

By Gus Gaynor

Are you a manager who thinks only of the tasks on today’s plate or do you consider future requirements? Do you have any responsivity for innovation?

I propose that technology-based organizations require managers to manage and lead within the purview of their assigned responsibilities. Managing involves meeting organizational objectives, providing qualified staff, building team spirit, adjusting for unexpected demands, directing the activities of the assigned organizational unit, fulfilling administrative requirements, and more. Leading concerns anticipating future organizational unit requirements to assure it meets its obligations to the sustainability of the organization: It requires using personal initiative, innovating, and taking appropriate risks.

Consider the following examples that demand managing and leadership.

  • You’re assigned a major project with targets you cannot possibly meet. As a manager you have two choices, say nothing and hope for the best, or you take on the leadership mantle, bring the issue to the attention of your superiors with a proposal justifying your conclusions.
  • You are a well-respected manager and offered an opportunity to take responsibility for a unit that has failed to meet expectations. After much deliberation you accept. This assignment as a manager requires leadership.
  • Organizational protocols prevent you from taking certain actions as a manager, circumventing these restrictions requires leadership to do it ethically and avoid disciplinary action. What do you do?
  • Bypassing a manager, who resists change, to gain approval of a proposal to introduce new technologies requires leadership with a capital L. Dangerous territory except for those accepting very high levels of risk.

Each example provides specific challenges that are influenced by your past performance in meeting targets, your unit’s organizational culture in respect to accepting well-intentioned failure, and the skills necessary for communicating with diverse levels of management. So the following are important points to consider:

  1. Understand fully your willingness to accept risk: This is a very personal issue depending on personal and family obligations. A bank account provides you an opportunity to seek opportunities.
  2. Making a transition from technology professional to management often appears a way to avoid dealing with the uncertainties associated with the technical disciplines. As a technical professional you’ve dealt with concrete engineering and scientific principles, as a manager/leader you now take responsibility for the actions of your reports.
  3. Reflect on your organization’s operating philosophy, and its culture. Your ability to take risks depend on the extent to which the organization accommodates for “well-intentioned failure.”
  4. Evaluate your past and current work-life: Have you considered it as a job or a career? What efforts provided you with job satisfaction? Did assignments that required accepting significant risk provide added satisfaction? How did you function as a team member?
  5. Identify your skills, experiences, knowledge, attitudes, and personal characteristics like integrity, dedication, curiosity, energy and drive, self-motivation, and tolerance for ambiguity that you’ve developed over your career. What did you excel in and what situations perplexed you beyond your ability to deal effectively with them?
  6. Most every situation requires a different mindset based on the topic and participants. A mindset used with one of your reports will not be the mindset to use in discussing a proposal with senior executives. It depends on the participants.

Your success as a Manager-Leader takes deep knowledge of managing fundamentals. Peter Drucker has often noted that “management is a social science and liberal art” and involves understanding interactions of human beings in pursuit of their objectives.

About the Author
Gerard H. (Gus) Gaynor served as 3M Director of Engineering (Retired) and is the TEMS VP of Publications. Please contact him at

TEMS – 5 Focus Areas

Moving Product/Services from Idea to Market

Identifying and Implementing Successful Projects, and Systems

Integrating Technology for Capability and Productivity

Developing from Engineer to Leader

Balancing the Norms of Society, Government, and Regulators

Attend upcoming Conference

IEEE International Conference on Smart Mobility (IEEESM'23)


Follow us on Twitter