As per title, what's the difference between these 2 terms? My teacher said that in China, 主任 is considered as low position, and 主管 is higher. But looking at the translation 主任 means director, which is generally a high ranked position, whereas 主管 means supervisor which can be just anybody's 1st line manager.

Is it true only in China or elsewhere?


3 Answers 3


When "主管" is used as a noun, it is usually a title for a position in a private company, who is in charge of a department, e.g., "人事部门主管". It is a very general word, sometimes informal. But if there are "主管" and "主任" in the same company, then often "主管" is of higher position, but not necessarily. I seldom see in the press that "主管" is used as a noun to describe an government officer or nation-owner company because basically they often have more formal titles, which can be "主任" when he or she is the leader of a "中心" or "办公室", and for department X=科/处/局/厅/部/乡/镇/县/区/市/省 is "X长", basically, e.g, "信息化与网络中心主任", "劳动局局长". It is safe to say "政府各部门主管" (leaders of departments of the government), but in mainland it is often as "政府各部门领导同志". However, it may be used as a verb to describe a government officer, e.g., "陈副市长主管教育。"(Vice Mayer Chen is in charge of educational affairs.)

I believe "主任" is seldom used as a verb. It is mainly used as a noun, which is title of the chief officer of "中心" or "办公室", sometimes "委员会".

The interesting part is, "主任" is not necessarily a leader, but only a high-end professional. "王主任" can often mean an experienced doctor (Physician, surgeon , dentist ...)

So 主管 and 主任, who is more powerful? In a private company, "主管" can be in a higher position, but it varies with companies. But when the 主任 is of government or who works for government, his or her position varies a lot. He or she can be "街道办主任", who is an officer of not-that-high position, in charge of several blocks, or "中央网络安全和信息化委员会主任", who is, well, President Xi Jinping.



director; head; supervisor



in charge; be responsible; a person in such a position

a person in charge of a department = department head

The two terms are just different ways of referring 'head of a department'

Since there are many levels of the department, we can't say 主管 must rank higher than 主任.

For example: both 人事部主任 and 採購部主管 are under the same CEO, depend on which department is more important in the company, 人事部主任 might rank higher than 採購部 主管 or vice versa.

Most importantly, a department can has either a 主任 or a 主管 as the department's head, but not both. 人事部 can either has a 主任 or 主管, but not both. (If we have a 人事部主任 and a 人事部主管, who is in charge then?)


The answer below is not applicable for advanced Chinese learner or sinologist, who wants to figure out the origin or the semantic difference of 主任 and 主管.

From an ordinary Chinese's perspective, either 主任 or 主管 refers to the leader or head of the department, when they serve as a noun. Their differences in literal meaning are minor, and their usages are up to the name of the corresponding position.

If you're learning daily Chinese language, you may discard their difference in daily talk, but also try to memorize that exact position (or the set phrase) in formal/written language.

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