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Leaders vs. Managers in Early Childhood Education Essay


There has been a significant measure of confusion between the role of a leader and manager in educational settings in the past decades. Rodd (2013) has commented on the problem with the following words, “understanding leadership in early childhood has been plagued by its confusion with the concept of a management” (p. 19). Since the two roles are interconnected, it often happens that different stakeholders in the educational process tend to confuse them. The following paper aims at making distinctions between the roles of leaders and managers in educational settings with the focus on early childhood education.

The Role of a Leader in Education

The role of a leader in educational settings includes numerous aspects such as the ability to influence the group to achieve the set tasks and goals, strategy and tactics development, creation of vision and meaning for the group, policy-making, and empowerment (Gibbs, 2008). An important characteristic of leadership includes a genuine personal interest in students’ welfare and dedication to educational values (Rodd, 2013).

First of all, the role of a leader in education implicates one’s ability to organize students in a way that allows optimal opportunities for the realization of educational goals (Rodd, 2013). This is to be done through the ability to influence the group members in such a way that promotes the ultimate results achievement (Rodd, 2013). A leader has an important role in the educational process. He or she provides oversight and direction, shows appreciation, and gives one’s feedback and recognition for students (Rodd, 2013). Students need such direction to be able to identify their level of progress and set new goals for themselves.

Further, the educational leader is the person with the excellent communicational skills enabling one to reach one’s audience in the most effective way (Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership, 2016). This is especially the case when a leader works with the students of the youngest age category because one of the most important conditions for success in this age category is the teacher’s speech clearness (Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership, 2016). This peculiarity can be explained by the fact that the youngest learners only begin to facilitate their comprehensive abilities and develop new learning skills.

An educational leader is also the person who knows how to create a positive learning atmosphere in class (Rodd, 2013). One knows how to facilitate mutual support and understanding between all students and the teacher.

Another main characteristic of a good leader is inspiration by educational ideas and genuine personal interest to students. Such an attitude will become a miraculous chariot rapidly bringing a teacher to the elevations of success. Passion to knowledge is contagious. A teacher should be inspired by the ideas of the triumph of knowledge and education because otherwise, it would be difficult for him or her to motivate one’s students (Rowell, 2009).

Moreover, in today’s situation in the educational world, a good leader should have a high level of interest in the implementation of new technologies in order to keep up with the progress (ACECQA, n.d.). Therefore, the role of a leader in educational settings is to promote technological progress and make advancements to incorporate it into the daily teaching practice (ACECQA, n.d.).

In addition, a leader in education is a strategist who formulates long-term goals for upgrading the system with the help of plans, policies, and tactics (Carter, 2003). An educational leader is thus highly interested in what can be done to promote the positive change within the organization. One is also interested in how the organization’s standard practice contributes to the set goals achievement, and if he or she notices that corrections are needed, the person acts promptly to ensure the steady advancement towards progress (Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership, 2016). Overall, a leader in education is a status quo challenger and creator of positive change.

Required Skills and Dispositions

Being a leader in quality requires constant work on one’s personal character traits, dispositions, and skills (VIT, 2015). The core character traits for a leader in education are self-confidence; honesty; independence; decisiveness; achievement drive; excellent thinking ability; persistency; tenacity; conscientiousness in pursuit of goals; excellent problem-solving capacity; excellent analytical skills; and position power (VIT, 2015).

The key leader skills are communication, emotional intelligence, job-relevant knowledge and competences, technical skills, social skills, ability to motivate people, team-building experience, pedagogical content knowledge, pedagogical skills to implement the teaching strategies, and analytical skills (ECA, 2006). The essential dispositions of a leader in education are ambition and energy, self-management, self-awareness, self-motivation, inspiration, desire to lead, integrity, honesty, self-confidence, and intelligence (VIT, 2015).

The Role of a Manager in Education

The role of the manager in education amounts to the role of facilitator of the educational process rather than the inspirer (Waniganayake, Cheeseman, Fenech, Hadley, & Shepherd, 2012). Below, different aspects of this role will be observed in detail.

A manager in educational settings engages in daily caregiver activities such as resource allocation and maintenance (Waniganayake et al., 2012). Next, a manager acts as a supervisor who controls the way others maintain behaviour standards (Waniganayake et al., 2012). Further, one performs the role of an administrator of subsystems within the educational establishment (Waniganayake et al., 2012).

Another aspect of the managerial role in the educational setting is transactional authority. The essence of this managerial task is inducing compliance to the working standards and requirements with the help of a formal authority, sanctions or rewards (Waniganayake et al., 2012). Evaluating this aspect of managerial role in comparison with the leader’s role, a manager in educational settings relies on control strategies to achieve the expected outcome, whereas the leader strives to have the same result by means of inspiration and vision transferring on others.

In sum, educational managers are the supporters of status quo in contrast to educational leaders. These people are not interested in change but their focus is stability and compliance to the existing rules and models (Waniganayake et al., 2012).

Required Skills and Dispositions

An effective manger in early childhood education will need to have the following personal qualities: self-confidence; honesty; independence; decisiveness; achievement drive; excellent thinking ability; rational way of thinking; persistency; tenacity; conscientiousness in pursuit of goals; excellent problem solving capacity; excellent analytical skills; authorise position; and position power (Waniganayake et al., 2012).

The essential skills of a manager in education are team management; management skills to arrange effective learning process; excellent technological skills; pedagogical content knowledge; pedagogical skills to implement the teaching strategies; reflective skills to analyze the teacher-generated data and act on the results; and excellent communication and collaborations abilities to manage the members of the team (Waniganayake et al., 2012).

The key dispositions a manager in early childhood education should possess are positive way of thinking and positive values and attitudes (Waniganayake et al., 2012). To manage participants of the educational process in early childhood, a manager should reflect on the specific needs of the primary stakeholders, the youngsters. During this stage of their development, these small people just begin to familiarize with the adult world of education, and therefore they need a positive manager able to inspire them for the new achievements (Waniganayake et al., 2012).

The teacher colleagues also need a positive manager, who is a supportive and understanding person (Waniganayake et al., 2012). Therefore, a conclusion can be made that positive disposition is of key importance for a manger in early childhood education.

Models of Leadership and Management in Education

Models of Leadership

Collins’ level 5 leadership model provides the theoretic framework for modelling an educational leader professional growth. This model traces the young specialist development from the level of capable individual to the level of executive leader. According to this model, most of early childhood educators develop their career within the levels 1 to 3 because they find it difficult to advance to the levels of effective or executive leader due to the peculiarities of the work they do (Rodd, 2013).

Maxwell’s model is similar to Collins’ one but its focus is not career but positional leadership. Maxwell’s model also suggests five levels of leader development but these levels are organized according to the principle of positioning (Rodd, 2013).

His classification includes the following levels: position, permission, production, people development, and pinnacle. Compared to Collins’ model, Maxwell’s one finds a more positive response in the educators employed at the early childhood sector because it has the focus on professional values rather that professional hierarchy. According to Rodd (2013), Maxwell’s model makes an emphasis on “your people skills, personal qualities, leadership skills, competence and vision are more important for recognition as a genuine leader in early childhood than a title or position” (p. 54).

The model of successful leadership in education developed by Christopher Branson demonstrates effective strategies for a leader in education to build adaptive learning cultures and incorporate the ethical values into the process (ECA, 2006). The key elements of this model include values, motivations, beliefs and behaviours that can be utilized in the real life educational situations for the best practice facilitation in adaptive learning cultures building. This model also provides important insights into how a leader can act to champion the group interests. The strong point of this leadership model is its ethical and cultural building implications, and the weak point is that it is supported by the stereotypical judgment rather than prototypical one and thus, it is biased at times.

Fiedler Contingency Model is another leadership model with the broad implementation in educational settings. This model assumes that effective group performance depends on the ability of a leader to match one’s leadership style with the degree of situation control possibility (Rodd, 2013). The model implicates a leader’s development of one’s leadership style according to the focus of one’s interest whether it is personal relations building or productivity and task orientation.

Models of Management

Formal models of educational management implicate that a manger is the source of authority in the collective body of educational workers and all team members are to be accountable for the fulfilment of organisational tasks to him or her (Waniganayake et al., 2012). Formal managerial model views a manager as a chief in the organization responsible for the fulfilment of tasks, functions and control of team members’ behaviour.

In contrast to formal models, collegial models of management in education state that power and decision-making should be shared among all organization’s members (Waniganayake et al., 2012). These models view a process of organizational policymaking and consensus building as the series of discussions leading to consensus. At that power and authority are shared between all members of an organization who have a shared understanding about the institution’s goals and objectives (Waniganayake et al., 2012).

Comparison of Current Theories of Leadership in Education

Current theories of leadership in education view a leader as a facilitator of positive change and inspirer of advancement towards the organization’s vision relation. The most popular current leadership theories are the theory of transformational leadership, theory of strategic leadership, and organizational leadership theory. Other spread theories are socio-cultural theory, distributed leadership theory, and transactional theory. Below the most common theories will be observed in detail with the purpose to compare and contrast them.

The theory of transformational leadership represents a leader as a promoter of the shared decision-making and teacher empowerment (Carter, 2003). This theory implicates that a leader is the agent of change who understands its importance and encourages adoption of measures necessary for change introduction. The theory of transformational leadership sees a leader as the facilitator of team work who sees the complete picture that others do not see and helps everyone on the team participate in this picture bringing to reality. In educational settings, the theory of transformational leadership qualifies a leader as the fosterer of school community sense and the one who empowers continuous improvement at this school community (Carter, 2003).

The theory of strategic leadership regulates the relationships between external environment and the educational organization’s mission and vision as well as their implementation into practice in the real life conditions (Cheeseman, 2012). This theory views a leader as the parson with an outstanding ability to anticipate and envision change and empower others to develop and adopt a necessary strategic change. In educational settings, the theory of strategic leadership implements by showing that a successful leader is a person who promotes change, welcomes participation, and encourages the role sharing between the team members to facilitate the ultimate quality of educational goals realization (Kagan, 2013).

Organizational leadership theory assumes that a leader is a person who enhances the capability of members of the group or collective to accomplish the best outcomes working as a team (Carter, 2003). In educational settings, this implicates encouraging participation from students, their parents, and interdisciplinary members of the educational team to have the best educational outcomes and ultimate school performance (DEEWR, n.d.).

The value of organizational leadership theory in the contemporary school conjuncture is the focus on parents’ participation in the educational process. In mind with the age category of interest in this paper, which is the early childhood, special attention to parents’ engagement is a highly beneficial approach. This fact can be supported by the small children’s special connection to their parents and increased demand for emotional support and encouragement from them (DEEWR, n.d.).

Furthermore, according to DEEWR (n.d.), “families are the first educators of their children and they continue to influence their children’s learning and development during the school years and long afterwards “(p. 2). DEEWR (n.d.) has also recognized the primary role of parents and family in a child’s educational process. This is another strong support factor for the importance of parents’ engaging in the educational process, and the high value of organizational leadership theory in the educational settings is the provision of the theoretical framework for the family members attraction.

Comparing these theories, a conclusion can be made that each of them has their strong points and addresses certain aspects of leaders’ activity in educational settings. The strongest theory providing the theoretic framework for empowerment is the theory of transformational leadership. The theory of strategic leadership is stronger than other theories in the aspect of organizational planning, mission developments, and strategy building. Organizational leadership theory appears the strongest theoretic framework for the elaboration of collaboration between all the stakeholders in the educational field.


Summing up, it is necessary to point out that since the roles of leaders and managers in educational setting are interconnected, there is a tendency among the various participants of the educational process to confuse them. However, an overview of academic sources addressing the issue of differences between leaders and managers in educational settings working in early childhood professional area demonstrates a row of distinctions.

Overall, despite the fact that a leader can have similar tasks and responsibilities with a manager, one’s scope of professional activities and objectives is broader. The major difference between the two types of organizational chiefs is the attitude to change. While managers’ main task is to facilitate effective functioning of an educational organization in status quo, leaders’ tasks is to develop new vision and move the organization toward the new picks of advancement.


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Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership. (2016). Australian professional standards for teachers.

Carter, M. (2003). Growing a vision: growing your staff. In B. Neugebauer & R. Neugebauer (Eds.), (pp. 17-19). Web.

Cheeseman, S. (2012). The educational leader. ECA NQS PLP e-newsletter, 33. Web.

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Gibbs, L. (2008). Same and different – the policy planning process. In policy development in early childhood settings: from idea to evaluation (pp. 19-41). Castle Hill, N.S.W.: Pademelon Press.

Kagan, S. (2013). Leadership for young children [Presentation Powerpoint slides]. Web.

Rodd, J. (2013). Theories, models and styles of leadership. In Leadership in early childhood: The pathway to professionalism (4th ed.) (pp. 45-61). Maidenhead: Open University Press.

Rowell, P. (2009). Ask a child care adviser: policies and procedures in everyday practice. Web.

Victorian Institute of Teaching (VIT). (2015). Victorian teaching profession code of conduct. Web.

Waniganayake, M., Cheeseman, S., Fenech, M., Hadley, F., & Shepherd, W. (2012). Leadership: Contexts and complexities in early childhood education. Sydney: Macquarie University.

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