Test Leadership vs. Test Management – Is the Balance Right?

As I’ve blogged about recently, I’ve been recently studying for the Level 5 Certificate in Management and Leadership from the Chartered Management Institute. I’m now three sessions into the four session course, and it’s getting really interesting to see and think about how one might apply general management principles more specifically to the software testing area.

The most recent session was all about Management and Leadership. As part of this we did an exercise where we had to sort out a number of different phrases into groups that either apply to ‘Management’ or ‘Leadership’. No sitting on the fence, no spending hours deciding which to put where, but a quick exercise to make you think. There  were right and wrong answers (although primarily to seed further discussion).

The list, as I saw it, is below. What do you think? Do you agree?

Leadership Management
Enables others Implements and maintains
Inspires vision Focus on systems and structures
Encourages head and heart Adopt short term view
Acts authentically Completes transactions
Asks what and why Asks how and when
Has long range perspective Brings order and coordination
Focuses on doing the right thing Focuses on doing things right
Inspires trust Accomplishes tasks through others
Acts as an innovator Focuses on performance
Challenges Provides stability
Transforms Controls
Committed to the cause Imitates
Gives purpose and meaning Complies
Focus on people

After the exercise I got thinking about how I might apply this more generally to software testing. Specifically to Test Managements vs. Test Leadership, i.e. what separates those who run testing projects, probably as part of the design and delivery of a specific product, vs. those who lead groups and provide inspiration both inside those groups, and to the wider testing community. Are the skills needed in those situations different?

We clearly need within our community those who can challenge and innovate. Right now this is coming mostly from the context-driven community as I see it, where also the vision and long range perspective is clearly evident. These people are driving things along nicely in my opinion. As someone who has recently attending Rapid Software Testing with James Bach then I can say first hand that he’s certainly encouraging head and heart. I don’t need to mention challenging, right?

The question then comes, who is taking things further? Leaders need managers to take their vision and turn it into practice. They need someone who can focus on the short term view, give the control and ensure completion. They need people who implement. As a community do we currently have enough of the managers listening and implementing the vision that our leaders are sharing?

3 thoughts on “Test Leadership vs. Test Management – Is the Balance Right?”

  1. Hi Stephen,

    I was going to write a long reply to your article but I think a partial quote from Albert Einstein will suffice: Logic gets you from A to B (the manager), imagination can take you anywhere (the leader).

    I see more elements of leadership in my style of working but I have to be more like the manager at times.

    How would you view yourself in this context?


    1. Great quote Steven, thanks for the comments.

      In my current role I’d view myself more as a leader than a manager, although this does depend very much on the context in which I’m working which changes from project to project, and even sometimes within the projects themselves. I also like to make sure that I am keeping my hands dirty when I can, so testing as neither leader nor manager.

  2. I am a bit confused why “focus on people” is under management. I mean, I guess in a way that is true… but I think they are more process focused more than anything else. On the other hand, I believe that it is the leader who is more focused on people, leading them to grow and be better at what they do.

    My two cents

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