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Managers vs. senior managers: Become the boss you want to be

October 13, 2022 - 15 min read


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What is a manager?

What are a manager’s responsibilities?

What is a senior manager?

What are a senior manager’s responsibilities?

The main differences between managers and senior managers

How to progress from manager to senior manager

Becoming the boss

Planning your next career move?

Whether you dream of being a movie director or a top-level CEO, you’re going to need some kind of management experience. You’ll need help if you want to accomplish big things and usually, that means leading a team of skilled individuals who can execute your vision.

Learning to manage people is an important step in your career development, but becoming a leader requires careful consideration — management positions come with a lot of responsibility.

They can be a fun challenge, but you have to be ready for the added weight of leading a team and being responsible for the work of others. And when things don’t go as planned, you’ll need to know how to manage your stress levels in the face of adversity. 

That’s not to say you shouldn’t pursue this, but you should be aware of where you’re heading. It’s important to do your research before committing to a role.

Your first hurdle will be understanding the difference between manager vs. senior manager roles. Even though they sound similar, they carry different responsibilities and wield different kinds of influence in an organization.

Let’s take a closer look.


What is a manager?

A manager is an individual who oversees a team of people within a company or department. Their job is to ensure the team delivers on their tasks, roles, and responsibilities — all in pursuit of the company’s wider mission. 

Managers typically head a small unit in a company. General managers may run a storefront, while marketing managers oversee specific marketing campaigns.

They typically have 1–4 years of management experience, hold a bachelor’s degree, and report to senior managers, directors, vice presidents, or owners of the company. 

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What are a manager’s responsibilities?

A manager’s job description will vary depending on where they work. Middle management at a Fortune 500 company may have a narrower scope than those at a small tech startup. 

But every manager will have some variation of the following responsibilities:

1. Oversee a team of employees

If you become a manager, you will be responsible for a team of direct reports. These employees work together to meet your departmental goals, but their successes and failures depend on your managerial skills. You’ll need to delegate and follow up on tasks, communicate effectively, and be confident (but thoughtful) in your decisions.

2. Hire and train new team members

As the leader of a team, you decide who gets to be part of it. It’s your job as a manager to recognize when you need extra human resources and request additional staff members.

Once you receive approval from upper management, you’ll have to:

  • Create a job posting
  • Interview prospective candidates
  • Create job offers
  • Onboard and train new hires

3. Support and mentor current employees

Just like you, your team will have dreams, goals, and aspirations. They’ll look for opportunities to expand their skills and improve on their current ones.

As a manager, you have the responsibility and privilege of nurturing your team’s talent. You’ll give positive reinforcement, suggest areas for improvement, and support them in their professional development. You’re the coach of this high-performing team.

4. Provide evaluations and feedback

Part of supporting your team involves providing honest and direct feedback — and sometimes, that means offering constructive criticism.

You’re responsible for your team’s tasks and deliverables. Regular one-on-one performance reviews will ensure everything is done efficiently, on time, and at the highest possible standard. 

5. Set team goals

Team goals are targets you and your team commit to achieving together. Setting clear milestones for everyone and including team members in your process will ensure you’re all pulling in the same direction and help you set realistic goals.

For example, if another department wants you to mobilize a sales strategy within a week, your team can help you decide whether it’s feasible. Then, as the project manager or sales manager, you’ll lead the initiative and assign tasks accordingly. Once everyone knows their job, they’ll work together more efficiently.


6. Manage expenses and budgets

As a manager, you’re responsible for your department’s expenses. You’ll have to allocate money to supplies, specific projects, and human resources. And if you suspect you can’t achieve your business goals without a larger budget, you’ll have to make your case to senior management.

7. Collaborate with other managers and teams

No department is a monolith. As a manager, you’re responsible for a team among teams. And that means you’ll have to coordinate with other managers to make sure you’re meeting the company’s goals and expectations. 

8. Lead regular team meetings

Managers should always be in regular contact with their staff. In addition to one-on-ones, you’ll have to set up regular team syncs to make sure everyone is on task. 

You can decide how long or short you want your meetings to be. But no matter what, you’ll have to create a meeting agenda, which can require a fair bit of preparation, depending on what you hope to discuss.

9. Build action plans for achieving goals

An action plan is a list of tasks and resources needed to complete a project or reach a goal. As a manager, it’s your job to create this document, assign items to your team, and set clear expectations and deadlines. This is ultimately how your team will contribute to overall company objectives.

What is a senior manager?

People in senior manager roles often have similar responsibilities to regular managers, but also participate in business strategy and business development.

Every senior manager will look at their job differently, depending on their years of experience, the nature of their industry, and the size and culture of their organization. But, more often than not, they share something: they spend a lot of time thinking about the big picture and operating on a more strategic level.

If a smartphone company is rushing to bring a new model to market, senior product managers will examine and maximize their internal production practices. They want to find the quickest way of moving a product from design to assembly line.


What are a senior manager’s responsibilities?

A senior manager’s job description also varies based on their organization. The scope of their responsibilities will change with the number of manager levels at their company. 

For example, a car company might have a floor manager on the assembly line. Then above them is a senior manager responsible for all the floor managers in the region. Then, one level above them is a manager responsible for all the regional managers. 

This managerial structure creates a hierarchy of ascending responsibility, rising all the way to the chief executive officer (CEO).

But, no matter where they fall in the org chart, the responsibilities of a senior manager include:

1. Guide, mentor, and manage the managers

Senior-level business managers have a duty to develop their direct reports. You’ll guide team managers, mentor them, and provide constructive feedback when necessary. The better they are at managing their teams, the better they’ll perform for you and the company.

2. Approve hiring and firing requests

When a team manager wants to hire or fire someone, they need approval from a senior manager. As a senior manager, it’s your job to make sure they aren’t abusing their power for personal reasons or overshooting their budgets when making job offers.

3. Set organizational objectives

A company’s strategic plan contains its long-term goals for the future. Under your stewardship, your team managers will direct their respective departments toward the organization’s overarching targets. You’ll set priorities and deadlines for each department and help them succeed.

4. Make tough decisions

When adversity strikes, you’ll have to make tough calls. Your problem-solving skills and decision-making capabilities will be tested as you address time-sensitive problems. 

5. Manage departmental budgets

Senior managers usually control costs and budget allocations for the departments they oversee. You’ll work with team managers to determine their needs and keep them in the black.

6. Maximize employee performance

Regular managers will deal with the one-on-one mentorship of staff. But as a senior manager, you must provide an environment where they can thrive. That means identifying inefficiencies, streamlining workflows, or providing them with the right tools for the job.


The main differences between managers and senior managers

Here’s a summary of the key differences between managers and senior managers:

  • Managerial experience. Senior managers often have 5–10 years of experience managing teams. Regular managers can have anywhere between 1–5. While this is an important metric when hiring a manager, it’s not usually a dealbreaker.
  • Industrial expertise. Companies tend to value managers who have a deep knowledge of their field. Senior managers will have more points in this column than regular managers.
  • Strategic mindset. A senior manager requires excellent knowledge of the company, its goals, and how each department contributes. A regular manager is also concerned with these things, but they focus more on the daily operations of their team.
  • Position in the org chart. A senior manager is positioned higher up the corporate ladder. This gives them more influence over corporate operations but also increased responsibility.

How to progress from manager to senior manager

Senior manager jobs aren’t easy, but they can be rewarding. You’ll work with talented people at the highest levels of your company and stretch your skills with interesting new challenges.

To get that promotion, you’ll likely need to meet these minimum requirements:

You can show off these skills by excelling in your current job. Before your performance review:

  • Take on a special project and knock it out of the park
  • Speak up in meetings
  • Show your passion for leadership and experience in leadership roles 
  • Demonstrate a positive mental attitude
  • Highlight your accomplishments in one-on-one meetings

Being a good manager is difficult at any level. The management or leadership skills you’ll need aren’t all intuitive, and you’ll need to learn through practice. But the more experience you have in your field and working with teams, the better prepared you’ll be to take control. 


Becoming the boss

Everyone answers to someone — even CFOs are accountable to their CEOs. But that doesn’t take away from the unique experience of being a manager. You’ll find belonging as part of a management team, see your staff blossom into the best versions of themselves, and stretch your skills through these challenges.

Understanding the difference between managers vs. senior managers will help you set appropriate career goals. The journey to a management role won’t be easy. But if you play your cards right, you can do great things for your career and your team.

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Published October 13, 2022

Shonna Waters, PhD

Vice President of Alliance Solutions

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