Engineering Manager vs Senior Engineering Manager | Productboard (2023)

At Productboard, our engineering career ladder contains two manager titles: manager and senior manager – and we’re hiring for both. But what are the differences between the two roles, and what skills and experience would you need to be a great fit for either one? Read on to find out.

It’s all about impact

Before we focus on the differences between an engineering manager and a senior engineering manager, let’s first discuss how we look at different roles and levels of seniority here at Productboard.

One of the most important factors from a cultural perspective is that we focus on impact above everything else when discussing levels, promotions, or accomplishments, as Joshua Samberg, Director of Engineering for our Scale tribe, points out:

“Impact is the driving force behind career-related decisions, not some rigid hierarchy that places people above and below each other.

“In the engineering department, we don’t set our managers up for growth by giving them ten thousand things to manage. We set them up for growth by giving them an important area to take responsibility for. Then we let them find the best structure and processes to maximize their impact.”

Ultimately, senior engineering managers will be expected to have a bigger impact overall than first-level engineering managers.

Engineering Manager vs Senior Engineering Manager | Productboard (1)

The core responsibilities of engineering management

Our engineering managers oversee an engineering team focused on a particular product area or related discipline. Sometimes, a more senior engineering manager might oversee multiple teams.

Whether you are a first-level manager or a senior manager, the role covers three important areas: People management, delivery management, and tactical management.

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While we do sometimes promote individual contributors to first-level management if they have the relevant skills and desire, we often look for managers with a few years of experience across these key areas when starting completely new teams.

Let’s take a closer look at what these areas involve.

People management

  • Being responsible for their team’s wellbeing at both an individual and group level
  • Ensuring that their team members are happy, focused, and motivated
  • Coaching and mentoring engineers, helping them to realize their growth ambitions
  • Hiring new engineers and ensuring they are properly onboarded

Delivery management

  • Ensuring efficient shipping of product improvements and features
  • Understanding and implementing agile best practices to ensure that projects are delivered on time
  • Working closely with product managers and designers to deliver high-quality outcomes

Tactical management

  • Being responsible for the direction of their team’s work
  • Ensuring that their teams’ work is aligned with a wider business strategy or objective
  • Ensuring that all team members understand how their work plays into these goals
  • Implementing processes to support a growing team efficiently and effectively

What differentiates a senior manager here, according to Joshua, is a stronger focus on strategic work:

“People who get to the senior engineering manager level are able to delegate and systematize more of the administrative, process-based part of their work, enabling them to have more focus on high-impact, strategic work.”

We also expect senior managers to be able to build and design processes independently within their team that are effective and productive.

“This is not a company that provides you with a template document to fill in for every team process. So we expect our senior engineering managers to be able to figure out how the team will work best and put in place the processes, documentation, and frameworks that will get it done.

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“Our senior managers have an immense amount of freedom and autonomy, but that comes with a lot of responsibility.”

Engineering Manager vs Senior Engineering Manager | Productboard (2)

Cultivating leadership in others

Another important part of being an engineering manager at Productboard is the ability to cultivate leadership and ownership in the people you are managing.

According to Joshua, while this is true at all levels of management, it’s something we expect more from our senior engineering managers – particularly if they are managing multiple teams:

“If the manager is the only leader in a team, that makes it even more difficult for them to have space for big, strategic impact. So by encouraging individual contributors to step up and take responsibility where appropriate, we can maximize the impact of our teams and our people.”

Collaboration across the EPD organization

At Productboard, we consider engineering, product, and design (EPD) to be one big team rather than distinct departments. As such, we expect our engineering managers to have a symbiotic relationship with at least one product manager and one designer – or more if they are managing more than one team.

This collaboration across the EPD organization is a critical part of the job for an engineering manager at Productboard. What differentiates a senior engineering manager here is their ability to collaborate effortlessly with their senior counterparts in product or design – or with multiple counterparts rather than just one – with a higher level of sophistication and complexity.

Supporting other managers

Being an engineering manager at a hyper-growth startup can be a challenging job – especially during these times of economic and geopolitical turmoil. With this in mind, it’s critical that our managers have sufficient support and guidance from those who have been there and done it.

As Joshua points out, this is where senior engineering managers can step up and join him in supporting level-one managers:

“At the pace we operate, level-one engineering managers need more support than I alone can give them as an engineering director. So in a senior engineering manager, I’m looking for someone who has a diverse set of experience and capabilities that potentially my other engineering managers don’t have, which they can tap into to help those engineering managers improve and grow.

(Video) Interviewing and Hiring Senior Engineering Managers

Soft skills

When it comes to soft skills, there are certain qualities that we look for at both manager levels:

“Empathy, transparency, and relentless improvement are three of our values that are very relevant and important for managers at Productboard. You have to be able to give and receive feedback in a clear and empathetic way. That doesn’t mean avoiding tough conversations.

“We believe in servant leadership. It raises a flag when we hear people say, ‘I wanted to be a manager so that I could accomplish more.’ We think the motivation that usually drives the best managers is the desire to help others achieve more.”

Engineering Manager vs Senior Engineering Manager | Productboard (3)

Impact in action – three examples of senior management at Productboard

To illustrate the type of projects our senior engineering managers oversee – and the level of impact they have – let’s look at three real-life examples:

Example #1 – Building new, high-value functionality

One of our senior engineering managers is currently leading a team that’s building the foundation of executive reporting in Productboard. This is a highly impactful project, which will eventually involve building the engine that will allow all engineering teams in Productboard to build valuable product-related reports more easily.

The first slice of reporting functionality will also open the door for product executives to become end-users of Productboard rather than just decision-makers. So you could say it’s a game-changer.

Example #2 – Overhauling the in-app experience

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We’re currently looking for a senior engineering manager to oversee a complete reframing of our in-app experience and information architecture. This essentially means creating an entirely new way to organize information in Productboard – and a new look and feel for our users.

Example #3 – Expanding the Productboard ecosystem

Another of our senior engineering managers has been guiding the building out of our ecosystem of integrations and APIs. A project of this scale requiresmany teams across the organization to get involved, but we need someone to lead a team that handles the core activities that enable that work.

As you can see from these three examples, senior engineering managers are required to oversee extremely complex, high-value projects. The level of skills, expertise, and experience to handle such work confidently is what distinguishes a senior engineering manager.

Engineering Manager vs Senior Engineering Manager | Productboard (4)

Summary – what differentiates a senior engineering manager?

Before we wrap this up, let’s quickly summarize the key points that differentiate a senior engineering manager from a first-level manager.

Both roles have significant overlaps in terms of managerial responsibilities, covering key areas such as people management, delivery management, tactical management, and cross-functional collaboration. That said, senior engineering managers are specifically required to demonstrate the following competencies:

  • A diverse and deep level of leadership experience
  • The ability to lead teams working on complex, high-impact projects with confidence
  • The ability to handle higher levels of autonomy and uncertainty
  • The ability to effectively automate and delegate administrative and process-related tasks, allowing them to focus more on high-value strategic work
  • The ability to cultivate leadership in others, thus maximizing the impact of their team
  • The ability to collaborate closely with senior designers and product managers
  • The ability to assist the director of engineering in supporting first-level managers

If you are interested in becoming an engineering manager at Productboard, why not head over to our careers page and check out the latest opportunities?


What is a Senior engineering manager? ›

Senior engineering managers oversee the project team to ensure each phase is completed accurately, on time, and within budget. They coordinate with the company's marketing and sales departments to determine what products or services are offered to clients and then develop those offerings to specifications.

Is a senior manager the same as a manager? ›

A manager is a professional who presides over a specific department at a company, while a senior manager is a professional who has more managerial experience and performs on a more strategic level at a company.

IS manager higher than senior? ›

Senior-level managers possess the knowledge and expertise to guide supervisors in their roles. Because this position is a level up from the role of a manager, the level of responsibility increases in a broader scope. The senior title commonly follows the manager's background, where they oversee their department.

What level is engineering manager? ›

At Google, engineers at L5, L6, and L7 are designated as Engineering Managers. The role of Engineering Managers is to oversee large-scale and highly technical projects and ensure they're completed.

What is the next level after senior manager? ›

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Depending on your hierarchy , you can appoint either at the same level i.e. Sr Manager or at the next level as Assistant General Manager. AGM, certainly is a higher designation than Sr. Manager.

Is senior manager higher than VP? ›

Beginning from the top of the chart, the title CEO (Chief Executive Officer) is followed by that of Vice President. Below the title of VP is Director (a company can have more than one director), and then the title of Manager or Senior Manager.

Is VP same as senior manager? ›

Large organizations often have rankings, including assistant, associate, senior, and executive VP; this ranking system typically specifies the company hierarchy more clearly if it employs many vice presidents. While both roles are in leadership, a VP is truly senior leadership.

Is senior manager considered executive? ›

No, a senior manager is not an executive.

There are three levels of management starting with the manager, followed by the senior manager, and then the executive or general manager. A senior manager typically works under an executive manager in a large corporation with several management levels.

How old is a senior manager? ›

The average age of an employed senior manager is 44 years old. The most common ethnicity of senior managers is White (71.7%), followed by Hispanic or Latino (13.8%), Asian (6.0%) and Black or African American (5.8%). Senior managers are most in-demand in New York, NY.

What are the four levels of managers? ›

The four most common types of managers are top-level managers, middle managers, first-line managers, and team leaders. These roles vary not only in their day-to-day responsibilities, but also in their broader function in the organization and the types of employees they manage.

Is senior manager equal to director? ›

While most directors are managers, not all managers are on the director level. Traditionally, the job description for a director supersedes even that of a senior manager. Directors operate at the highest level, often reporting directly to a company's shareholders on the board of directors.

How many levels of manager are there? ›

There are 3 levels in the ranking order of an establishment and they are: Top-level management. Middle-level management. Lower-level management.

Is engineering manager a promotion? ›

Think of a tech lead as an engineer who's taking on extra duties, whereas an engineering manager is an engineer who has been promoted to a whole new job. The second distinction follows from the first. A lead engineer's focus is on technology: they've taken on duties related to a specific technical area of mastery.

Is there a hierarchy in engineering? ›

Engineering Hierarchy

Entry Level – Engineering Intern, Apprentice Engineer, Engineering Aide, Engineering Clerk, Entry Level Engineer, New Grad Engineer, Junior Engineer.

Who is the boss of senior manager? ›

Chairman. The role of the chairman is to control the board and share any wisdom and experience with their senior management team. They will oversee the implementation of the business plan, and will make sure that they are continuously reaching their key targets.

How long does it take to get promoted to senior manager? ›

To get promoted to senior manager requires between five to nine years of experience working as a manager in that field. A successful manager should have several well-developed soft skills and have a strong understanding of the business.

What is the hierarchy of job titles? ›

The hierarchy of corporate titles is:

Chief Operating Officer (CEO)/Chief Technology Officer (CTO)/Chief Financial Officer (CFO) President. Executive President. Senior Vice President.

What is the highest position in manager? ›

Chief executive officer

Primary duties: Chief executive officers are a company's highest-ranking executives. They oversee its operations and make major decisions on its behalf. They also provide the company with direction, offer guidance to other executives and communicate with the board of directors.

What is the highest rank of manager? ›

The highest level of management within a business is the top-level management; this is the first of the three levels.
Top-Level Management
  • Chief Executive Officer (CEO)
  • Chief Financial Officer (CFO)
  • Chief Operating Officer (COO)
  • Company President.
  • Company Vice President.
7 Mar 2022

What title is higher than VP? ›

Vice presidents report to the president or CEO of a company, while directors usually report to the vice president.

Is senior better than executive? ›

Hierarchy. Executive vice presidents are typically higher in rank than senior vice presidents, but in some companies, they may share responsibilities or there might only be an executive vice president. A large corporation typically has one or a few executives and can have several senior vice presidents.

How do you progress to senior management? ›

  1. Understand Your Impact Across The Organization. ...
  2. Make Sure You're Positioned For Leadership. ...
  3. Develop Your Strategic Thinking. ...
  4. Learn Coaching And Managing-Up Skills. ...
  5. Increase Your Visibility. ...
  6. Have Discussions With Senior Leadership. ...
  7. Improve Your Communication Skills. ...
  8. Seek Out Additional Responsibilities.
31 Aug 2021

How do you become a senior manager? ›

Want To Become A Senior Manager? Here Are 5 Ways To Do So
  1. Be vocal about your aspirations. There is a popular quote which reads, “Words mean more than what is set down on paper.” If you want to become a manager, be vocal about it! ...
  2. Be a mentor first. ...
  3. Work on your skills. ...
  4. Be Interested in Feedbacks.

Is senior manager a good role? ›

Senior-level business managers have a duty to develop their direct reports. You'll guide team managers, mentor them, and provide constructive feedback when necessary. The better they are at managing their teams, the better they'll perform for you and the company.

Is senior manager middle management? ›

A middle manager is a link between the senior management and the lower (junior) levels of the organization. Due to involvement into day-to-day running of a business, middle managers have the opportunity to report valuable information and suggestions from the inside of an organization.

How many years is a senior position? ›

As with most positions, the amount of experience needed for a senior-level position depends on the role and the company's own requirements. The employee needs to have been in the industry long enough to have gained solid soft skills as well as hard skills. Generally, this can be considered at around eight to ten years.

What are the 7 types of managers? ›

Types of Management Styles
  • Democratic.
  • Visionary.
  • Autocratic.
  • Coaching.
  • Laissez-Faire.
  • Pacesetting.
  • Servant.
17 Dec 2019

What are the 6 types of managers? ›

Keep reading for an overview of the six management styles and when to use them.
  • Commanding Management. ...
  • Visionary Management. ...
  • Affiliative Management. ...
  • Democratic Management. ...
  • Pacesetting Management. ...
  • Coaching Management.
4 Mar 2021

What are the 7 levels of leadership? ›

Seven Levels of Leadership
  • Level 1: Leader of Self. Leadership begins with mastery over self. ...
  • Level 2: Leader of Team. ...
  • Level 3: Leader of Leaders. ...
  • Level 4: Leader of Organization. ...
  • Level 5: Celebrity. ...
  • Level 6: Sovereign. ...
  • Level 7: Diety. ...
  • Conclusion.
3 Jan 2017

What is a level 7 manager? ›

In term of job title, Level 7 manager has "Sr. Manager" in their job titles, and level 7 individual contributor has the word "principal" in their job titles (e.g. Principal Product Manager, Principal Software Development Manager, etc.)

What is level hierarchy? ›

The levels of hierarchy refer to the number of layers within an organisation. Traditional organisations were tall with many layers of hierarchy and were often authoritarian in nature.

What is the highest level of hierarchy? ›

Answer and Explanation: The highest level of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs is "self-actualization." After all other needs are met including physiological, safety, love and belonging, and esteem, we are free to focus on the pinnacle of human needs.

What comes after engineering manager? ›

On the management track, your career path is likely to look like, Engineering Manager -> Director of Engineering -> VP of Engineering -> SVP of Engineering .

Is engineering manager higher than tech lead? ›

The main difference between an engineering manager and a tech lead. The main difference between an engineering manager and a tech lead is that an engineering manager is in charge of people and processes, whereas tech leads are more in charge of systems and hands-on coding.

What is above engineering manager? ›

The Principal Engineer role acts as the individual equivalent of a Senior Engineering Manager, Development. Collaborates and makes proposals across several teams on their engineering work, and helps their team members make informed decisions in alignment with the sub-department strategic plans.

What is the highest position in engineering? ›

Top 10 Highest Paying Engineering Jobs of 2022
  • Systems Engineer. ...
  • Electrical Engineer. ...
  • Chemical Engineer. ...
  • Big Data Engineer. ...
  • Nuclear Engineer. ...
  • Aerospace Engineer. ...
  • Computer Hardware Engineer. ...
  • Petroleum Engineer.
24 Mar 2022

What is higher than senior engineer? ›

Hierarchy. Principal engineers are higher-level positions compared to senior engineers.

What is the highest honor in engineering? ›

ASME Medal, established in 1920, is the highest award that the Society can bestow and is to recognize 'eminently distinguished engineering achievement. '

What does an engineering manager do? ›

An engineering manager's operational responsibilities involve overseeing engineering projects and teams. They help strategize, design, and manage projects at every stage, ensuring that the projects are completed efficiently, correctly, and on schedule.

What is the role of a senior manager? ›

Guide, mentor, and manage the managers

Senior-level business managers have a duty to develop their direct reports. You'll guide team managers, mentor them, and provide constructive feedback when necessary. The better they are at managing their teams, the better they'll perform for you and the company.

Is engineering manager higher than project manager? ›

However, the main difference between engineering and project management is that engineering managers focus on managing people. In contrast, project managers are in charge of managing tasks. Project managers are responsible for managing tasks; engineering managers are responsible for managing people.

What is the hierarchy of engineers? ›

Engineering Hierarchy

Entry Level – Engineering Intern, Apprentice Engineer, Engineering Aide, Engineering Clerk, Entry Level Engineer, New Grad Engineer, Junior Engineer.

Do engineering managers make good money? ›

Salary Ranges for Engineering Managers

The salaries of Engineering Managers in the US range from $40,000 to $500,000 , with a median salary of $150,000 . The middle 57% of Engineering Managers makes between $150,000 and $266,000, with the top 86% making $500,000.

Is engineering manager a team lead? ›

Engineering managers typically have more responsibility than team leads. They usually oversee multiple teams, departments and projects to ensure that all products meet specifications and deadlines. Engineering managers may also provide leadership and direction when making decisions about product development.

What is the average age of a senior manager? ›

The average age of an employed senior manager is 44 years old. The most common ethnicity of senior managers is White (71.7%), followed by Hispanic or Latino (13.8%), Asian (6.0%) and Black or African American (5.8%).

Is a senior manager an executive? ›

No, a senior manager is not an executive.

There are three levels of management starting with the manager, followed by the senior manager, and then the executive or general manager. A senior manager typically works under an executive manager in a large corporation with several management levels.

Where do engineering managers make the most money? ›

Engineering Manager Salary

Engineering managers make the most in California, Alaska, Washington, Oregon, and Delaware.

Is engineering manager a technical role? ›

Engineering Managers Must Be Technical

Generally, engineering managers write less code than the senior developers on their team, but they should write some code to keep their skills sharp.

What are the types of engineering managers? ›

View the role of the Engineering Manager as one of five different archetypes: The Tech Lead EM, Team Lead EM, Delivery EM, Product EM and the Lead of Leads EM.


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