Team leaders manage a huge volume of work and yet their job descriptions can be quite vague. Let's look at the role, responsibilities and tasks managed by team leaders.
- Team leaders are first-line management
- They add another level of control, but they have no authority. They're hired to influence and build relationships, to make things happen
- Team leader's to-do lists can be vast, but by categorising them, it'll give you clarity about the purpose of your job
A team leader has an overview of a group of people, gives instruction and monitors performance.
It might be an official title change or a delegation exercise from your management, but either way, being a team leader separates you from your peers as a trusted person to manage a project or group of people.
If you want a career in management, the title makes your CV stand out - it signals you've worked hard to gain responsibility and perhaps achieved an increased salary.
"Team leaders are the first step on the 'management ladder'," says our Head of Leadership and Management, Andrew Wallbridge. "They have to step in at a moment's notice to cover an absent manager, making sure the rest of the team perform and hit their targets, all without authority".
What is the difference between a manager and a team leader?
A manager has authority and accountability, they're responsible for strategising and overseeing.
Team leaders are responsible for communicating the strategy and guiding the team towards targets.
Some operations are too vast for one manager, so employers add another layer of control - the team leader. Although that shifts responsibility down one notch, the manager retains accountability.
Team leaders and managers have different responsibilities. Unlike managers, team leaders won't have the authority to direct, change plans, enforce or build their teams through hiring and firing.
Their role is usually a motivational and inspirational one within an organisation. They're skilled relationship builders and mediators, liaising between the people and management.
When they apply their leadership qualities, they push projects ahead
An awful lot. Day-to-day team leader tasks may include some of the following, but it's more than likely that you're covering around 50-60 jobs in total:
- Covering your manager when they're out of office
- Monitoring projects
- Communicating goals and targets
- Encouraging success
- Motivating your team
- Gaining commitment
- Quality control
- Resolving conflict
- Managing resource
- Time management
- Having difficult conversations
- Communicating changes from seniors
- Conducting team meetings
- Leading 1-2-1s
The role is demanding and complex, but fulfilling. You can see the personal impact that your leadership achieves.
The drawbacks are that there's little in the way of financial compensation, even though you're poking your head above the parapet and you're in a riskier position.
Even though your daily tasks run into the tens and your organisation, and managers rely on your ability to push projects ahead, your job description can be quite vague.
There's no clear evidence of just how much you do.
We would always suggest that you document just how much you bring to your role and the simplest way to do that is to organise and categorise your duties.
All your responsibilities can be grouped under five umbrella categories:
1) Manage the operation and admin
2) Lead and motivate the team
3) Manage performance
4) Solve problems
5) Care for the health, safety and welfare of your people
Take a pack of post-its and on each one write down a task you fulfil as a team leader. When you're happy you've got all your tasks, start to categorise them into the team leader responsibility categories we've listed above.
Emails, paperwork, planning, scheduling meetings, taking minutes, monitoring performance, reporting and many other organisational tasks fall under this category. It's your responsibility to make your team's work and achievements transparent and accessible to anyone else in the business. If you're asked for a report or a document, you should know exactly where it is and have performance data to hand.
Team leaders are only effective and successful when they're organised. If you're looking after the interests of a fairly large group of workers, managing admin and operations can be all-consuming, so getting your team to strict processes - that won't duplicate your workload - and time-management techniques, will be the greatest support.
Although you lead and motivate using your leadership skills and qualities, there are tangible duties that drive performance too:
- Coaching and mentoring
- Communicating goals and targets
- Setting objectives
- Sharing feedback
- Leading team meetings
- Leading 1-2-1s and personal development plans (PDPs)
- Pitching ideas through presentations and reports
- Supporting social and wellbeing activities
- Using incentives and rewards
Your team will only meet their targets and goals if they have the right support from you. You need a firm handle on their individual objectives, how well they're performing and giving them feedback, then plugging the gaps with coaching and mentoring.
Some team members will need more support than others, but it's critical that you show you have that level in interest in everyone around you to keep morale and interest high.
You manage performance by observing results. Your duties under the category might include the measurement and feedback tools you use.
As a team leader, your performance management job is two-fold:
- You'll appraise their interpersonal skills to evaluate how well they do their job and work well in the team
- The effectiveness of their work. What did they deliver and what impact did it have?
The more formal and thorough your approach to performance management is, the clearer you can be with your team. With the evidence in hand, you can justify what's going well and what could be improved.
It's leverage to be assertive about your requirements and the expectations on them. It gives you powerful reasoning behind targets, objectives and goals, particularly if they shift unexpectedly.
The duties in this category are people management skills and harder to quantify in a single duty or task.
The real art of solving problems draws on your interpersonal skills and experiences to unite different personalities while empathising with both sides.
Alongside empathising, seeking compromise and avoiding shame or punishment, you can also avoid conflict by:
- Introduce new rules and ways of working together
- Clearly define and separate tasks to avoid overlap and clashing
- Lead mediation
- Schedule more regular 1-2-1s
- Liaise with management and HR
You have a duty of care to look after your people, so the tasks in this category will focus on the environment, atmosphere, compliance and work/life balance.
- Health and safety training and other appropriate training
- Risk assessments
- Safeguarding against bullying
- Safeguarding against substance abuse
- Prevent presenteeism and control working hours
- Ensure compliance with relevant laws and standards
If any tasks fall outside of the five categories, carefully review what extra work you're taking on.
Some tasks are relevant to the team leader role, whereas others might sit more comfortably with someone who has accountability, or who has no responsibility at all.
It'll reveal opportunities to delegate, but also opportunities to progress.
If your responsibilities are closer to that of a manager than a team leader, it might be time for you to climb the management ladder and apply for a job with more authority.