Differences between an associate manager and an assistant manager may be miniscule or more apparent. The depth of similarity or difference usually depends on an employer's definition of the job title. There are no true inherent differences in the titles, as their job descriptions and authority levels are much more important than mere names. When differences exist, they typically directly relate to authority and autonomy levels.
Assistant and associate managers both help managers supervise company teams, departments and divisions. Most have the authority to act as managers when the person with that title is absent or otherwise occupied. Both job types must enforce company and manager policies and procedures daily. Both categories are typically "exempt" employees, normally working for a fixed salary. Some assistant and associate managers in the retail industry may also work on an hourly basis and are eligible for overtime and shift pay differentials.
When there are differences, these distinctions typically relate to two primary areas. One difference surrounds autonomy. Typically, assistant managers have the authority to act independently when the department manager is absent. Their authority level is accepted and trusted by senior management. Associate managers often have less autonomy and authority. Instead of adopting the manager's job description for the day, week, month, etc., they most often report to the next level supervisor to receive permission to take some actions reserved for the manager.
Often, assistant managers have some substantial experience in the job or with the employer. This expertise allows managers and senior management to allow assistants to act as managers, without high-level scrutiny or examination. Associate managers frequently lack experience or are new and as-yet unproven employees. Their actions, therefore, are more restricted and attract close scrutiny. They must often check with higher-level management before taking many managerial actions.
Many employers do not have associate managers at all. Most, however, have job descriptions for assistant managers (or directors, supervisors, team leaders or assistant vice presidents) Levels of authority for assistant managers tend to be similar from industry-to-industry. They act as managers when managers are absent from the workplace. Other employers may have both assistant and associate titles with little difference in authority or duties. The associate manager title seems to be more popular in western Europe than in the U.S.