Managing versus Leading

CarolinaFireJournal - By David Hesselmeyer
By David Hesselmeyer
01/23/2014 -

In the past few issues we have been discussing leadership. We have conversed about how leaders want their staff to succeed. Leaders want their staff to take initiative to gain experience and be vested in the department.

This issue we are discussing the differences between managing and leading. Unfortunately, many use these two terms interchangeably but they are totally different. So, let’s look at these two characteristics and see how they differ.



Let us look at the definitions of both words (definitions were taken from Merriam Webster’s Online Dictionary). To manage is to have control of something or to take care of and make decisions about. To lead is to guide in a way especially going in advance.

Based on the above definition you can link managing to administrative type work. If you create a budget for your fire department then you are taking care of and making decisions about priorities. In general terms we say we are going to manage our time. Again, with this saying, we are taking control of our time and making decisions with how to use it.

An officer of a platoon in the military leads their soldiers to battle. They don’t manage the soldiers to battle. As my daughter does in her preschool class, she sometimes is the line leader. She guides the other students by doing so.

Anatomical Comparisons

Managers tend to be the brains of the operations. They create policies and procedures then make sure that staff follows them. When staff does not follow, managers implement discipline. This controls how employees or staff act and interact with others. The focal point of managers is on the organization. The managers build their organization with their work.

Leaders tend to be like the heart or soul of the agency. Leaders want to aid in ensuring that the agency succeeds. Leaders set directions for others to guide their actions towards a common goal. Leaders can get others to do things that they may not want to do but will do for the common goal and objectives. With leading, the focus is on the people of the organization. It is building up of the people to better the organization.

A Mix is Best

You can be both a manager and a leader or you can be one or the other. To be most efficient, fire department officers need to be a combination.

They need to be a manager in the sense that they are able to properly set personal boundaries, perform public budgeting and write grants. This ensures that the organization will succeed outside of its personnel.

That being said, we still need to focus on our staff. Without staff, a fire department will not succeed. Leading is done when officers encourage personal development of their staff by taking fire officer classes in order to advance. Leaders guide staff to be able to succeed the leader when the leader is not able to perform their duties.


I urge each of you to think of your role. Do you have a good balance of managing and leading? How can you learn to be better at managing and leading? There are many ways to better yourself in these roles. Being good at both of these will surely aid in ensuring that your organization will succeed and will be around for a long time.

Until next time ... be safe.

David Hesselmeyer has been in emergency services for 15 years. Currently he is a firefighter, rescue technician, paramedic, and emergency management coordinator Type I. He is the owner and primary consultant with Emergency Preparedness Consulting (EPC). EPC contracts with emergency services agencies, health departments, fire departments, EMS agencies, and non profits to assist in risk assessments, plan writing, plan revision, exercise development, etc. He currently volunteers with Buies Creek Fire Rescue and works part time with Pitt County EMS. If you have any questions or concerns about this please feel free to contact Hesselmeyer at [email protected].
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