What’s the difference between a Director and a VP?

Business Manager

When searching for jobs or planning your career future, you may start to notice similarities between language used to describe positions. For instance, there are situations when people use directors and managers interchangeably. While the two terms are similar, a director is a more senior, less hands-on role that develops strategy, solves bigger-picture issues, and interfaces with the executive team. 

Here are two more positions that may be difficult to place on the correct rungs of the career ladder: Director vs. VP. Which is more senior? What are the different responsibilities in each role? How can you prepare to hold one or both of these positions in your career? 

Here, we’ll discuss how to distinguish Director vs. VP once and for all. 

A Director’s Role

A director is in charge of a particular sector of an organization, typically managing at least a few employees. Their key objective is to identify next steps for the unit or department they oversee, secure funds for their initiatives, and guide their teams in their roles. 

Directors are not autonomous at the organization, however. In addition to leading teams below them, they also need to work within the priorities set by the Vice President who oversees their department – as well as other departments – and the Executive Team. 

Some of the common director roles are as follows: director of human resources, director of marketing, and director of strategy. Depending on the organization, there can also be different levels of directorships, including associate, assistant, or senior director. Senior-level directorship titles include executive director and director of operations. 

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A VP’s Role

In terms of organizational hierarchy, the VP typically manages several directors and is the official head of a division in the company. So, moving into a VP role is certainly not a lateral move. 

Rather than engaging with the needs of only a single unit or department, the VP needs to negotiate between the sometimes-competing demands of several directors. At the same time, the VP should send top-down messages to their directors regarding the organization’s business interests, as well as with the public. 

There are different levels within this title, as well. 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. This means that not every director will have the skills, personality, or vision to advance to the VP level.  

How to Become a Director

If you’re interested in moving from a manager to a director role, you should be ready to prove yourself in the following capabilities: 

  • Managing others in leadership roles and offering professional development for teams.
  • Soliciting feedback from your team and the public as necessary to create initiatives.
  • Collaborating with other directors on cross-departmental projects. 
  • Balancing the needs of the team you manage and the demands of senior-level officers. 
  • Developing budgets that work within the parameters set by senior-level officers. 
  • Thinking and acting strategically within company goals. 
  • Leading with excellence and demonstrating appropriate behaviors for your team. 

How to Become a VP

If you are already a director or have your sights for the future set high, here are some of the competencies that a VP needs to demonstrate: 

  • Developing your “executive presence” by building your communication skills and persona. 
  • Learning to inspire a team and mobilizing them into enthusiastic action. 
  • Translating the company and upper management’s mission, goals, and visions into action plans that directors can use. 
  • Keeping a keen eye on the market and competitors, and developing strategic plans accordingly.
  • Identifying and creating plans if the company undergoes any issues or problems. 
  • Leading teams and evaluating employees’ performance; revising performance standards as necessary. 
  • Managing the company’s finances and making changes as needed. 

Why It’s Important to Distinguish Between Director and VP

Understanding Director vs. VP in your career is important for two reasons. First, if you’re searching for a new role at the moment, you want to use the correct search terms in your search. This is because most people move through these roles in an upward trajectory, becoming a director before they become a VP. So, you don’t want to be wasting time searching or applying for VP positions too early. 

Second, when you’re planning your career future, you can start thinking about moving upwards, from manager to director, then VP. For someone in early or mid-career, this envisioning requires long-term planning. If that’s daunting for you to do alone, consider connecting with one of our mentors and coaches to construct a plan for your future.