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Online Courses

Nottingham Trent University

Telephone UK: 0800 032 1180 Intl: +44 (0)115 941 8419

Professional vs. leadership development – what’s the difference?

It can be difficult to pinpoint exactly what is meant by the terms ‘professional development’ and ‘leadership development’. While their meanings differ in many ways, both are lifelong forms of development that span an entire career.

To make it easier to identify the benefits of both these terms, we’ve explained what we mean by professional development and leadership development and how the two interrelate. 

What is professional development?

Our definition of professional development refers to gaining knowledge that directly relates to your chosen career. It’s the process of getting under the skin of the role you do, understanding it as best you can and identifying ways you can keep getting better at it.

An ability to set yourself apart and achieve a competitive advantage makes professional development invaluable. Constant changes to the economic, legislative and technological aspects of your industry, and business in general, mean that there is always more to learn. Staying informed about how the wider industry and your role within it changes over time is essential to keeping your professional perspective as relevant and effective as possible.

On a more subjective level, professional development also involves sharpening the expertise you need to be good at what you do and to advance another step along your career path. Every role has its own particular skillset; Data Mining for a specialist in data analytics, or Fashion Forecasting for a fashion buyer, for example. Although there’s much you can learn on the job itself, delving into the theory and contemporary approaches behind your profession can open up your outlook beyond your own organisation and ensure you have an in-depth grasp of every facet of your work.

What is leadership development?

The remit of leadership development, also known as personal development, is ‘profession-agnostic’ - it’s not necessarily dependent on your current role or any role that you aspire to. It has a much broader scope, helping you to fulfill your potential as someone who can actively guide peers and team members to the best of your ablility. That’s not to say that everyone will go on to head up a company, but the aim is to continuously improve your leadership capabilities and foster an eagerness to be your personal best, whatever that may be. 

During this kind of development, you investigate the unique strengths and weaknesses you bring to your role and how you approach situations that challenge you in and outside of work. Of course, there will be certain skills needed for specific careers, but developing widely applicable abilities can help you face any role with renewed confidence and vigour. ‘Soft skills’, for example, are those that relate to your working relationships with others, like communication, listening and empathy.

Or, you may feel your communication or presenting skills have always held you back. Through leadership development, you could take time to explore why you find this difficult and ways to overcome your personal struggle with it. Leadership development tends to blur the lines between our professional and personal lives, and encourages us to push ourselves out of our comfort zones in order to grow.

As one of our Online MBA students explains, “The Responsible Leadership module made me think about the things I do and how I manage people as well as how I interact with my peers and how I need to give voice to values.”

Professional and leadership development in action

Although professional and leadership development deal with the improvement of two distinctly different areas, there are overlapping elements of both forms of development. Strengthening personal weak spots can also impact your professional development, just as deepening your understanding of disciplines particular to your career can boost your confidence and ability to lead. Neither of these development processes happen overnight either; both are career or even lifelong practices.

Workplaces are ever-changing environments, so you need to make sure that you are constantly refining and improving the knowledge and skillset of both your role itself and your wider industry. We believe the most effective approaches incorporate aspects of both professional and leadership development, enabling you to explore what makes you tick from every side, and with both your working and personal life in mind.

"As part of your Online MBA, you will have the opportunity to develop both your professional and leadership competency via the Professional and Leadership Development module,” explains our Online MBA Course Leader, Faye Taylor. “Through this you will be introduced to a wide range of diagnostic tools and techniques that promote your critical self reflection. This will, with the support of a Personal Academic mentor, enable you to plan and execute a series of development activities that respond to your development needs. "

Reflecting on your previous experiences and critically examining your leadership style through workshops and activities can help you develop both your personal capabilities and your professional competencies. Constructive feedback from your peers and members of your team can help identify both individual and group strengths and weaknesses in order to enhance your self-awareness and improve your leadership abilities. Working with a mentor can further support your personal and professional development by providing you with the opportunity to ask questions, reflect on your behaviours, gain valuable feedback and plan your future career path with expert help.

This kind of inclusive self-development is just one way in which our immersive Online MBA courses can inspire, challenge and motivate you. Learn about the others by requesting more information today.