Ombuds' corner: Management or leadership?

In this series, the Bulletin aims to explain the role of the Ombuds at CERN by presenting practical examples of misunderstandings that could have been resolved by the Ombuds if he had been contacted earlier. Please note that, in all the situations we present, the names are fictitious and used only to improve clarity.


Management is quite adequate and most important for projects, budgets, milestones, and scheduling, for instance. However, when we are talking about people, about how to communicate and interact with them, how to motivate them so they are enthusiastic and give their best, and how to drive them to be fully responsible and accountable for their mission, one would then prefer to use the term leadership than management. What is the difference?

In short, leaders lead people, and managers manage tasks. Managers have subordinates, leaders have followers. The biggest difference between managers and leaders is the way they motivate the people who work with them or follow them, and this sets the tone for most other aspects of what they do. Many people, by the way, are both. They have management jobs, but they realize that you cannot buy people's hearts, especially when they need to follow through on a difficult project, and so act as leaders too. [See here for more on leadership and management.]

During his first year of activity in 2010 - 2011, as underlined in the first Annual Report, the Ombuds noticed that about half of the issues reported to him had to do with supervisors and supervisees, such as: evaluative relationships, career progression and development, and the atmosphere within groups leading to difficult peer relationships.

Number of case issues from the Ombuds Annual Report 2010-2011.

Let's take an example. Jeff*, a CERN Group Leader was confronted with some difficulties in communicating with his team, and decided to change his strict management style to include more qualities oriented towards leadership, by encouraging feedback from his supervisees on his performance as a leader. This opening created a very positive dynamic in the group where everyone felt that his or her opinion had a recognized value. People felt more empowered in the group's activities, so motivation, close support, understanding and a sense of community were positively reinforced. Jeff then noticed that his management was much smoother and better accepted by the group members than in the past, resulting in improved effectiveness.


All CERN's great results and achievements testify to the excellence of its management at all levels. Leadership however could still be improved if everyone fostered the values in the CERN Code of Conduct: integrity, commitment, professionalism, creativity and diversity. Discussions within the framework of the new Competence Skills model can give everyone the chance to provide feedback and help managers to become respected leaders as well.

* Names and stories are purely imaginary.

Contact the Ombuds Early!


by Vincent Vuillemin