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The Difference Between Change Leadership vs. Management

The Difference Between Change Leadership vs. Management

By WalkMe Team

Change leadership vs. change management – just how different are they?

Though the terms are easy to use interchangeably, they do have different meanings and each offers its own value. 

One is not more important than the other, however. Both are crucial for the successful implementation of organizational change programs.

Therefore, anyone involved in overseeing change efforts should understand the distinction between the two, why both are essential for successful change, and how to ensure that both managers and leaders are fully engaged.

Below, we’ll learn the differences between change management and change leadership, then look at a few resources that offer more information on each topic.

Organizational change leadership vs. management: Key differences

While both change managers and change leaders are responsible for guiding an organizational change project, each plays a different role. 

Here is a breakdown of the responsibilities of each:

Change leaders: roles and responsibilities

Change leaders are, like leaders in any other area of business, responsible for driving initiatives forward. 

Their responsibilities include:

Creating a vision for change. A vision for change should paint a picture of what the organization will look like after the change is complete. That picture will act as a guiding light towards which employees, managers, and change teams can direct their efforts. 

Crafting a change story. A change story translates the vision for change into a narrative that teams can latch onto when engaging in an effort. It should make a case for change, describe the reasons for it, and highlight the positive results that will come with success.

Communicating and promoting the change. Building awareness of the need for change is one of the most fundamental ingredients for success. Employees who understand the “why” of a change project will be much more understanding and supportive of that project. Employees are more likely to listen when communication comes from change leaders and change sponsors.

Embodying the change and leading by example. To successfully inspire and engage workers, change leaders should lead from the ground up. That is, they should lead by example and embody the very change that they seek to create. This, incidentally, is a fundamental leadership tactic – employees are more likely to trust leaders who “practice what they preach.”

Change leadership, it should be noted, is not just a nominal role. 

To actually have a positive impact, change leaders should be proactively involved with a project. The more engaged they are, the greater the impact they will have on an organizational change initiative.

Change managers: roles and responsibilities

Change managers are responsible for supervising, administering, and implementing organizational changes.

They perform tasks such as:

Assessment and creation of change plans. Change managers are usually responsible for assessing the state of the organization and the workforce. That information is then used to develop overarching change management strategies and project roadmaps.

Delegating change teams. Change projects are often guided by a central coalition and implemented by specialized teams and an “army of volunteers,” as change expert John Kotter puts it. To ensure the smooth execution of a change program, it is important to delegate responsibilities carefully and manage those teams continually. 

Managing the people side of change. The discipline of change management often focuses on change at the level of the individual. Change models, or change management frameworks, tend to emphasize tasks such as employee training, reducing employee resistance, and maintaining change over the long-term.

Implementing and overseeing the change project. Among other things, change managers are often responsible for developing change management metrics and KPIs, collaborating with stakeholders, coordinating change teams, monitoring the performance of the project, and making adjustments as needed.

While change managers will handle the day-to-day oversight of a change initiative, the more they enable and collaborate with change leaders, the more successful change projects will be. Each plays a complementary and crucial role in the success of organizational change programs.

Where to learn more about change management and change leadership

Change management is an established business discipline and there are a number of online resources that offer insight and information on this subject.

Here are a few of the best:

Prosci is an established leader in the change management industry. They have developed a number of proprietary change management tools and models, such as the ADKAR model, and they also offer change management training and certification. Their blog is a good resource for learning more about change management and leadership.

John Kotter’s consultancy is another well-known change management firm. They offer consultation services that leverage Kotter’s 8-step model for change, another popular change management framework. Their downloadable resources and their blog can offer useful insights on change management.

WalkMe’s change management blog covers countless topics in change management, from change leadership to best practices to change frameworks and more. Our blog is an excellent resource for those who want either general information about change management or detailed information about specific topics within the field.

Anyone involved in a change project, either leaders or managers, should have a solid grounding in change management knowledge. As such, performing upfront research can prove invaluable before engaging in absolutely any change project. 


WalkMe Team
WalkMe pioneered the Digital Adoption Platform (DAP) for organizations to utilize the full potential of their digital assets. Using artificial intelligence, machine learning and contextual guidance, WalkMe adds a dynamic user interface layer to raise the digital literacy of all users.