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Suppose someone's CV / resume says "I lead a team of 3 specialists". Would this mean:

  1. There are three specialists. This person is the most senior, line managing the other two.
  2. There are three specialists, and one manager. This person is the manager. They are not necessarily trained in the same specialisation as the three specialists.
  3. It is ambiguous. It could mean either, and there is no one "correct" usage of this phrase.

To illustrate - which of these would it imply?

1. There are three specialists, one of which is in charge of the other two. 2. There are three specialists and an independant manager, for a total of four people. 3. It is ambiguous how many people are involved in the described scenario.

1. is true for me. I want to be sure that, when I'm describing this, I'm not accidentally saying something that could be interpreted as being deliberately misleading.

I've read What differentiates a manager from a team leader? and it sounds like there's no universal convention about whether "team leader" as a role is different or the same as "manager", so I suspect 3 is true, but this isn't my area of expertise.

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    I doubt that the reader and evaluator of the resume really cares whether the answer is two or three. I think they care if you might fit as a leader of a team of five or twenty or fifty.
    – chili555
    Feb 1, 2015 at 15:54
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    Two software developers have now posted comments/answers to that effect. I don't doubt you're right about your own sector (software development) - but in my sector, teams are always very small (5+ is almost unheard of), and in my profession, leading two peers would imply a very different type of role to managing three subordinates. Feb 1, 2015 at 19:18
  • 1
    Then you need to state your sector so you can get good answers.
    – mxyzplk
    May 16, 2023 at 21:14

3 Answers 3

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I researched this by browsing professional profiles such as LinkedIn. These are typical quotes.

In every case I could find with additional information, "I lead a team of N" meant scenario 2, that there are N subordinates, who the author is separate from:

I lead a team of 3 people who work on projects to...

Responsibilities:

  • Managing a team of 3 reportees...

In cases like scenario 1 above, where the author leads a team which they're also a hands-on member of, people find ways to make it explicit, such as:

Realtor. I lead a team with 3 realtors, myself, and an executive assistant...


As Head Instructor I lead a team of 3 other instructors...


I am the lead in a team of 6 individuals who...

I couldn't find any examples equivalent to the first example where someone said "I lead a team of N specialists" then clarified that they are one of the N specialists, leading the others.

So it seems it is incorrect to say "I lead a team of N" when you are also one of the N.

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While it could be argued as marginally ambiguous, the phrase definitely implies there are 3 subordinates.

Saying I look after 20 children doesn't imply you are one of the twenty.

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    "Look after" is very different to "lead" - it's common for a team leader to be a team member. But after browsing LinkedIn profiles etc that include similar phrases, it seems like when someone is in the team they lead they make it explicit, like "I lead a team with N other specialists - so it looks like it may be 2. Jan 31, 2015 at 22:13
  • The meanings are close enough. Alternatively try 'I lead 20 men into battle'. Again, it implies you're number 21.
    – Dan
    Jan 31, 2015 at 22:23
  • That's a better analogy, +1, and it's backed up by what I found from trawling professional profiles. Jan 31, 2015 at 22:30
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The answer to your question, from the point of view of enquiring about workplace practice is:

It will make no difference whatsoever. And people can and will use it to mean both.

It's too small a level of detail for anyone to care about.

If you are concerned about which is technically correct, then I would suggest asking at the English Language and Usage site.

If you are absolutely concerned about this, write: "Lead a team of two other specialists..." or "Lead a team of three specialists, including myself..."

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