The word “lead” in a job title typically indicates a low-level supervisory position similar to an assistant manager or management trainee. The word “senior,” however, may be given to mid- or upper-level managers handling larger duties within an organization. Some organizations define clear job differences between a lead position and a senior position while others might consider the terms to be more arbitrary.
As a lead, you’re being introduced to management. Your duties likely include overseeing the day-to-day duties of employees you’re assigned to lead even if you’re also tasked with similar duties. Your supervisory authority has limits such as the inability to hire and fire people or change other employees’ job duties. You might, however, be tapped by management for recommendations on scheduling, workplace improvements, or whom to hire, fire, promote or reassign. Your job as a lead might also include assuring that the duties assigned to workers in your department are handled on schedule and within budget.
Being senior, in the context of an organizational hierarchy, likely doesn’t apply to your age. A senior position is usually a management position. It can be in any area of management in your organization and could signify that you’re in charge of other managers. Many organizations refer to their top executives collectively as senior management. With senior in your job title, rather than chief, VP or director, your position might be more in the middle of your organization’s hierarchy. A senior position can also mean that you’re in charge of a single branch or store location in a national chain. Senior personnel can be tasked with implementing company policies and goals, setting budgets and overseeing daily operations of lower-level managers and staff.
Where They Sometimes Blend
Both lead and senior positions involve supervising a staff. Each position requires excellent teamwork, organization and communication skills. Each job would have you reporting to someone higher up. Sometimes lead and senior are used in job titles without necessarily signifying an advanced position. For example, in its 2012 salary survey, Computerworld lists positions such as senior systems analyst and lead computer operator among the tech industry’s staff and entry-level positions.
When They Stand Apart
In some companies, a lead position may be the first promotion you’re given from entry level, based on skill that you’ve demonstrated on the job. For example, you may be hired to a housekeeping crew for a hotel without a college degree or much previous experience, but work your way to a lead position on the crew based on excellence. Landing a senior position, though, takes bigger moves. A new hire with a bachelor’s or master’s degree in business and impressive previous management experience might see “senior” in his job title from day one. To move up the ranks to senior management quickly, though, usually requires tackling big challenges and finding solutions that help a company compete and grow.