In the first of new series on managing people, Early Years Update looks at the distinction between leadership and management

In early years settings in all sectors it is the people who make up the staff team who have the greatest influence on the smooth running of the organisation and its ability to fulfil its vision and mission. The quality of the welfare, teaching and learning and family support provided by early years settings both large and small, is dependent upon the qualifications, skills, experience and attitudes of all the individuals who make up the childcare team. Leading and managing this team effectively brings out the best in everyone and leads to good outcomes for children, parents and staff.

Leadership involves setting the vision or the direction of the setting and carrying out actions to move this vision forward. Management covers the control and direction of people and resources in order to make that vision a reality.

Good leadership
The role of a good leader is to establish a vision for the setting, use her/his influence to encourage others to share that vision and then help to create the conditions needed to turn the vision into reality. To achieve this, a good leader will:

  • be a source of inspiration to colleagues and the ‘guardian of the vision’ of the setting
  • work hard to establish good two-way communication with members of the early years team to help them feel that their contribution to success is valued and respected
  • involve others in the decision making process to ensure that all everyone understands what has to be done and is aware of their role in the process
  • monitor progress and where appropriate model good practice
  • provide personal encouragement and find ways to recognise and reward good performance.

The particular style of leadership adopted in any setting will depend on the personal characteristics and experience of the leader and may need to adapt over time to respond to changing situations and challenges. Leadership doesn’t happen in isolation, there has to be a team to lead. Good interpersonal skills are therefore of paramount importance – emotional intelligence, good listening and communication skills and the ability to inspire trust and confidence are all essential attributes of a good leader.

The importance of good leadership in early years settings is increasingly being recognised through the development of leadership qualifications such as Early Years Professional Status (EYPS), the National Professional Qualification in Integrated Centre Leadership (NPQICL), the National Standards for Children’s Centre Leaders and by the current review by the Children’s Workforce Development Council (CWDC) of the occupational standards for early years leadership and management.

Effective management
In any early years setting the primary role of the manager is to be responsible for organising the people and resources that will translate the setting’s vision into high-quality services for children and parents. This involves being familiar with a large amount of background information and developing a wide range of management skills.

The background knowledge needed by an effective early years manager includes an understanding of:

  • what constitutes good practice in children’s learning and development
  • how to implement the welfare requirements of the EYFS
  • the legislative requirements covering childcare, employment and premises
  • the implementation of health and safety legislation, including food safety
  • child protection legislation and local guidelines and procedures
  • equality and inclusion, for children, parents and staff 
  • finance and budgeting.

The management skills required of an effective manager include:

  • Strategic thinking – an ability to see the ‘big picture’ but also keep track of all the smaller actions and initiatives which come together to deliver the overall vision of the setting.
  • Good organisation and planning – being able to deal with issues in a structured and methodical way and seeing projects through to completion.
  • Effective communication – an ability to pass on information and ideas to a variety of different audiences in a clear and understandable way.
  • Good time management – the self-discipline to plan ahead, structure the working day and week well and keep to deadlines.
  • Sensible delegation – the confidence to pass responsibility on to the most appropriate member of the team and then monitor that delegated tasks have been completed.
  • Financial awareness – an understanding of the technicalities of managing a budget and the requirements of financial probity.
  • Interpersonal skills – an ability to act at different times as leader, motivator, mentor, coach or authority figure – along with the skills to carry out each of these roles well.
  • Self-awareness and self-confidence – an awareness of personal strengths and weaknesses and the ability to use these effectively in the workplace.
  • A positive attitude to change – the maturity to reflect on, and learn from, previous experience.

Next month’s article will focus on ‘Building an effective team’.

Further information on leadership and management roles and can be found in: