Skip to main content
Questions? Let's Connect.
Get More Info Apply Now
16 Jan

What's Your Next Move: Team Lead or Engineering Manager?

man-in-blue-hat-talking-to-woman-in-yellow-vest-looking-at-clipboard

No matter what industry you’re in, making the jump to a leadership role can come with a number of challenges, especially in engineering fields where the skills that allow you to succeed as an engineer don’t necessarily translate into management. A good place to start is understanding the difference between titles. One of the most common questions: “What is the difference between a team lead and an engineering manager?” Without knowing the types of responsibilities for each position, it’s impossible to know whether they align with your own long-term career goals.

In discussing the differences between the team lead vs. manager positions, there are plenty of questions to consider. What is an engineering manager? Why is a team lead even needed? How have others become engineering managers? Could the new role mean a salary bump?

From the outside, there’s plenty of reasons for confusion. The team leader and engineering manager have many overlapping responsibilities, but each position has very different priorities and goals.

What Do Team Leads Do?

The team lead is responsible for project execution and making sure a specific goal or project is completed on schedule. Team leads are also responsible for making sure each member of their team is accomplishing what they were assigned to do, staying ahead of the timeline and adapting to any changes in plans or circumstances. For example, a team lead in the systems control field might manage the design and launch of a new security system.1 Their responsibilities would include overseeing the software development as well as coordinating how the system will be rolled out.

What Do Engineering Managers Do?

Engineering managers tend to be responsible for the “big picture.” While the team lead focuses on how a project is getting done, engineering managers typically oversee several projects worked on by a number of teams.

While the team lead keeps their focus on timelines and quality control, the engineering manager holds a more traditional managerial role. They work with their direct reports to understand their career goals and help find professional growth opportunities. Engineering managers step in when personal conflicts arise between employees, and also act as a go-between, building relationships with clients and higher-ups. They’re responsible for translating the more technical work and decisions to various stakeholders, allowing those who are working hands-on with the project to focus on the task itself.

This role can vary from industry to industry as well. For example, a biomedical engineering manager has duties that run the gamut: managing the lab day-to-day, acting as quality control in test studies or for new devices, and scheduling out clinical studies.2

How to Become an Engineering Manager or a Team Lead

Deciding whether to become an engineering manager or a team lead is not simply a matter of choosing between the managerial or technical aspects of the job. Moving into a leadership role, no matter at which level, requires a balance between the two. That’s why additional training such as earning a graduate degree in engineering is often required, even for those who are looking for a more management-focused role. Although they are not responsible for day-to-day project execution, engineering managers need to stay well rounded, because they still need to keep an eye on each team’s progress and output and be able to offer helpful feedback. Conversely, if you decide the path of a team lead better suits your interests and career goals, it can be an added benefit to have a better understanding of the “soft skills,”3 or the interpersonal ones needed to foster collaboration.


Find a Program That Works for You

For those in engineering fields, finding the right career path can be particularly challenging, especially if you are already an established professional who’s not looking forward to leaving the workforce and heading back to school. At Case Western Reserve University, our online master’s programs in engineering provide that technical background but still emphasize soft skill development. All online coursework is taught by the same experienced research faculty who teach our on-campus courses.

Skilled leaders in engineering are becoming more in demand, which might explain why earning a master’s degree in engineering results in a much higher salary, on average $120,000.4 While you still might be deciding between pursuing a career as a team lead vs. manager, there are programs that can help you improve your skills while you consider your options. The curriculum at the Case School of Engineering is designed to focus on the development of leadership skills, while also balancing cutting-edge technology and innovation. Learn more about our entirely online Master of Engineering as well as our three other online graduate programs: Master of Science in Biomedical Engineering, Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering and Master of Science in Systems and Control Engineering.


1. Retrieved on December 17, 2019, from indeed.com/career-advice/what-does-a-systems-engineer-do
2. Retrieved on December 17, 2019, from payscale.com/research/US/Job=Biomedical_Engineering_Manager/Salary
3. Retrieved on December 17, 2019, from indeed.com/career-advice/resumes-cover-letters/soft-skills
4. Retrieved on December 19, 2019, from usnews.com/education/best-graduate-schools/paying/articles/2017-03-14/weigh-the-cost-benefits-of-graduate-school