Is there a consistent, practical difference between a "Manager" and "Director" in the workplace, when applied to the same department?

For example: a Manager of Product Development versus a Director of Product Development.

If there is no consistent difference, are there any generalizations that can be made? Does an HR department make any generalizations about the difference in such titles?

Or, is the difference too arbitrary to make any good guesses about without knowing more about the company?

  • My suspicion is this is going to be highly dependent on the organization, and thus be too localized. – JohnMcG Jul 9 '12 at 16:09
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    It's too localized (depends on organizations) and "from your experience" is asking for a poll of possibilities, which is also a close-able reason for not fitting the SE format. Do you want to take a crack at editing it? – jcmeloni Jul 9 '12 at 16:30
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    chiefexecutiveblog.com/2009/03/… Director always seems to be a much higher ranked working at a higher level (there are no middle-directors like there are middle-management). Not sure it's a formal/agreed on definition though – Rarity Jul 9 '12 at 16:51
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    The edit doesn't help. In the UK, where I live, being a company Director has a very specific legal meaning (as an officer of the company), which Manager doesn't. I don't know if the same applies elsewhere in the world. – Oded Jul 9 '12 at 19:11
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    Started a discussion on meta: meta.workplace.stackexchange.com/questions/314/…. I'm still inclined to think it's too localized, but maybe it's valuable to capture the common generalities. – JohnMcG Jul 9 '12 at 20:14

In the United States a lot of companies will call someone a 'director of Grommits' if several Grommit team managers report to him.

This really isn't the best practice unless the 'director' is in fact, a member of the Board of Directors.

In the US calling someone a 'director' who is not a BOD member will create an ambiguity with the legal concept of 'officers'. This could become an issue in the event of a liquidity event, termination of the 'director', reporting requirements, and a host of other things best avoided.

The best practice is to call senior managers who are not BOD members 'Vice President', or 'Chief Grommit Officer', or something that clearly indicates that this person reports to the CEO and is not a member of the Board of Directors.

  • That's a very interesting point, I didn't think about the legal and maybe financial implications of the title. – user1220 Jul 9 '12 at 19:12

It's always seemed to me that the difference between manager and director is approximately equivalent to the difference between the words "manage" and "direct".

A manager has a team and a goal, and leads the team to the goal. The manager manages the resources (human and otherwise) to achieve the desired outcome.

A director is usually higher-ranking than a manager, and generally directs a department or company (think Board of Directors). A director sets a goal, and steers the organization towards it. This may or may not involve managing other staff, who may or may not be managers themselves.

A manager deals more with staff, day-to-day issues, and internal matters, whereas a director is more big-picture, deals with the organization as a whole, and is more outward-facing.

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    This has been my experience as well; the only thing I would add is that the manager is "internal" facing to the department and the director is "external" facing to the rest of the organization. – jdb1a1 Jul 9 '12 at 16:44

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