In a development team with a leader, should this leader be a line manager or is it better to separate the two roles?

How much admin/HR should a hands-on leader actually do before it becomes the responsibility of somebody else?

  • Please provide more details: what size is the team, what is the reporting structure above the team, is the organisation familiar with "matrix" responsibilities or is it very hierarchic, what is in place just now, and how well is the current structure working? (or to put it another way, what problem are you trying to solve?)
    – Iain9688
    Commented May 20, 2013 at 18:47
  • @Iain9688 Things are subject to change. We are a young company and growing fast. We have 15x developers and growing. We currently have a CTO and two development managers (team leader, line manager, scrum master, etc). This is a hierarchical structure. This question is a spin off from my other question here. Commented May 21, 2013 at 9:09
  • 1
    I'm not sure this is a PM question. Could you establish why this question belongs in PM:SE rather than in management or workplace SE? Is this a question about how to manage a project, or about HR, Management and Leadership?
    – MCW
    Commented May 21, 2013 at 12:03
  • It's a spin off from this question. It is regarding appropriate structure of a development team for effective project management. Commented May 21, 2013 at 12:08
  • This is really a Peter Principle question, and should probably be moved to Workplace SE if it's on-topic there.
    – Todd A. Jacobs
    Commented May 21, 2013 at 22:38

3 Answers 3


I'm an advocate of not having people reporting into other members of their immediate team. Having a line manager in the room can affect the honesty of things like retrospectives and it avoids some awkward situations (would you want to pair program with someone who just put you/you just put on performance review?).

At my place, we have a lead developers who provide technical leadership to the team they work in and managing developers who people outside of their immediate team report into for the career development aspects (and managing lead devs who do technical leadership for their team and line manage people outside it).

Added following question in comments:

People have regular catch ups with their line managers and I think it's helpful to be able to ask for advice about an issue within the team from someone who isn't emotionally involved in the problem.

I don't think most people really view it as an employee/employer relationship. It's more like having an impartial peer you can talk to about problems and development. Probably more accurate to call them mentors rather than line managers for the most part although they are expected to tackle issues like lateness/sickness where the team are unable to do so themselves.

  • That's an interesting approach. Does that limit the development of relationships between employee and employer? If the developer is detached from their manager, how can the manager know when/how to deal with changes, e.g. promotions, training, personal issues, etc. It seems to me that relationship would be build inside the team but not with the manager. The manager would presumably become detached from the staff. Is that a good idea? Commented May 21, 2013 at 12:11
  • Will add to my answer as the comment was getting long!
    – Ben
    Commented May 21, 2013 at 12:20
  • 1
    My answer to your previous question (pm.stackexchange.com/questions/9221/…) talks about Squad management, which encourages chapter (i.e. skill grouping) leads to deal with line management across squads (i.e. project teams). I think this broadly aligns with Ben's points.
    – Willl
    Commented May 23, 2013 at 15:11
  • @Willl That's my evening reading material. This is something that I've had thoughts on but never seen a formal approach to. Commented May 23, 2013 at 17:35

Team Leaders and Line Managers are different depending on your organisation structure.

A Line Manager is generally used in a vertical structure with responsibility for direct supervision of line workers, in this case, developers. They duties such as scheduling, training, hiring, firing and writing performance evaluations.

A Team Leader works a lot closer with colleagues to provide motivation for team members. There may be some administrative duties like scheduling, but is generally not considered as a supervisor to colleagues.

I guess your question is more to do with developers fitting into either of these roles and where you want your better developers to be.

The more knowledgeable/senior developers would be more suited to the team leader role being able to provide technical consultation and also meaning they wouldn't have the burden of carrying out as many administrative duties as a line manager.

A lot depends on the ambitions of the "better" developers, whether they want to continue to do what they enjoy doing as developers or if they want to move into more administrative line manager role.


I couldn't find any reason why it is a good idea to separate the roles. In fact, most of the team leaders I know are members of the line organisation. If you think about it, the responsibilities of a leader is quite the same as the responsibilities of a line manager. For example: the general "well being" of the team members, technical and personal growing, motivation etc.

The leadership has nothing to do with "admin". So answering the question you need none, but then you can an ask, "what do I need then?" Unfortunately, that question is too general, and I cannot answer.

  • Based on your answer, do you think it's a good or bad idea for the strongest developer to be the leader/manager? Considering this role has less time allocated for actual development. Commented May 21, 2013 at 11:59
  • 3
    definitely not unless she has management ambitions. She became the strongest, because she likes what she is doing. Promotion means that she will have to do something different, and there is a chance that she'll look for another opportunity, where she can continue to do what she likes. Make her a tech lead, and find somebody who'll do the administration part.
    – Zsolt
    Commented May 21, 2013 at 12:17
  • 2
    Totally agree with that. I've seen too many unhappy (former) devs who have stumbled into management and don't get the time to do the stuff they like any more.
    – Ben
    Commented May 21, 2013 at 12:31

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