What's the Difference Between CMI & ILM?

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If you’ve started to explore the world of management career development, it’s likely that you’ll have come across two of the biggest providers when it comes to professional management qualifications: CMI and ILM.

It’s also likely that you’ve probably got bogged down in trying to tell the difference between the two organisations at some point, what qualifications they offer and which one is right for your career development.

In this guide, we’ll attempt to come up with a definitive answer to that age-old question: what’s the difference between CMI and ILM?

What is CMI?

The Chartered Managers Institute is a professional membership organisation for people working in management roles. Founded in 1947 in Corby, Northamptonshire, England, it is one of the world’s oldest management membership organisations and it is the only one in the UK with a royal charter, which it gained in 2002.

This gives it the ability to award Chartered Manager status to members who demonstrate a particular standard of professional excellence: the only organisation in the UK able to do this.

What is ILM?

ILM is an independent charity and accreditation body that is part of the City and Guilds Group: an educational charity that provides vocational learning qualifications in a range of subjects. ILM provides dedicated qualifications in management and leadership. As a result of its focus on improving practical skills and knowledge through qualifications and training, ILM is widely regarded as one of the UK’s best institutions for management career development and for leadership coaching.

In case you think that we’re just getting lazy when we’re writing, ILM isn’t an abbreviation and is actually the full name of the accreditation body. The name ILM comes from the previous title of the organisation before the body was merged into the City and Guild Group, the Institute of Leadership & Management.

A female manager shuffling some papers at a desk

CMI and ILM compared


The CMI and ILM both offer management and leadership qualifications that cover all stages in a manager’s career: from a beginner just starting out in the field through to a senior professional with years of experience under their belt. The versatility of qualifications from CMI and ILM make them an excellent choice for people looking to develop their skills, knowledge and expertise in leadership and management.

Under both accreditation bodies, these qualifications range from Level 2 (equivalent to GCSE, grades 4 to 9) through to Level 7 (equivalent to postgraduate-level study) and the two bodies offer Awards, Certificates and Diplomas between them.

When it comes to the differences between the two, CMI qualifications focus more on strategic skills and are designed to be studied in progression, letting you develop your management career in a structured way.

ILM qualifications, on the other hand, are focused more on practical skills that you can apply to your role in your workplace straight away. They are more vocational, focusing on the pragmatic, technical knowledge you’ll need to excel in management and leadership roles.


Popular qualifications that CMI offer include:


Popular qualifications that ILM offer include:

  • Level 2 ILM Award in Leadership & Team Skills
  • Level 2 Certificate in Leadership & Team Skills
  • Level 3 Award in Leadership & Management
  • Level 3 Certificate in Leadership & Management
  • Level 5 Award in Leadership & Management
  • Level 5 Certificate in Leadership & Management

Studying an Award is a useful way to improve your general knowledge of one specific subject area in leadership and management. They are the shortest qualification that you can study and they’re designed to enhance your knowledge quickly so that you can apply your learning directly to your role, straight away.

A Certificate is a practical qualification that is often the first step people take towards developing their career. More detailed than an award, a certificate will take longer to complete but will give you a much wider range of skills and knowledge, across a variety of subject areas in your chosen field. Usually, if you have successfully completed a certificate you will be eligible to study the next qualification up in difficult – a diploma – helping you progress your career in a clear way. 

A Diploma is the most comprehensive qualification that you’ll be able to study in any given level. It will take the longest time out of all three qualifications to complete but the level and quality of knowledge you’ll gain from studying it makes it worth the investment. It’s designed to give you a detailed understanding of the essential aspects of management that you’ll need for a range of roles. Once you’ve completed a diploma, you’ll be able to progress your study to the next, succeeding qualification level.

An excited manager holding their glasses in disbelief

Units and Course Content

All qualifications offered by professional accreditation bodies – regardless of whether or not they are in management and leadership topics – are broken down into units (organised according to particular themes or skills) that comprise the larger course. Each unit is worth a particular amount of credits. And each qualification will be worth a particular amount of credits.

With CMI, most qualifications have a small number of units that cover a topic pretty comprehensively. This means that whilst you may end up studying each unit for longer, you’ll study less units overall. This approach can help give you a detailed knowledge of the topics covered.

ILM qualifications tend to have a larger amount of shorter length units. This means that you’ll study more units overall but they’ll take a shorter amount of time to complete. This can help you to cover a lot of information in a relatively short space of time.

When it comes to course content, for all intents and purposes, CMI and ILM qualifications broadly cover the same topics. Although, that said, this course content obviously differs

Membership status

CMI and ILM have different levels of membership and they each have different eligibility requirements.

CMI tends to have higher work experience and qualification requirements for membership of a particular course, making it a blessing if you’re looking to be a member of a prestigious membership level or a curse if you struggle to meet the grades to qualify.

With its focus on demonstrating practical skills rather than academic achievement, ILM has slightly lower requirements for membership grades

CMI has five membership grades:

  • Affiliate: The grade most people start with. Generally awarded to people studying a CMI qualification.
  • Associate (ACMI): Eligible for people who have successfully completed a CMI Certificate or Diploma.
  • Member (MCMI): Eligible for experienced managers who have more than 3 years work experience of management and leadership, along with a degree-equivalent qualification. Managers with more than 5 years of work experience are eligible for membership of this grade without needing a degree-level qualification.
  • Chartered Member (CMgr MCMI): Available to those with Member (MCMI) status, who successfully pass the CMI Chartered Manager Assessment.
  • Chartered Fellow (CMgr FCMI): Available to professionals with a minimum of 10 years’ management experience (3 of those years' experience at a strategic level) plus the successful completion of CMI’s Chartered Manager Assessment.

ILM works in collaboration with The Institute of Leadership, a professional membership body that regulates standards in leadership and management. As a result, when you study an ILM qualification you’ll be eligible for membership of The IoL too. There are four membership grades that you can join at:

  • Community: Aimed at people who are just beginning study or their career in management and leadership, who don’t meet the professional requirements of the other grades
  • Associate (AIoL): Eligible for professionals who have completed a Level 3 qualification or who can demonstrate at least one years’ work experience of basic management.
  • Member (MIoL): Eligible for professionals who have completed a Level 5 qualification or who can demonstrate at least one years’ work experience of middle management.
  • Fellow (FIoL): Eligible for professionals who have completed a Level 7 qualification and who has been working at senior, strategic level management for at least three years.

In terms of membership benefits, both CMI and ILM offer great access to networking, professional development and online resources for members. CMI offers a dedicated online CPD checklist for its members and mentoring programme whilst ILM offers a unique E-learning tool to help you continue your professional development.

Career Prospects

Truth be told, there isn’t much difference in the career prospects that come from studying a CMI or an ILM qualification. It entirely depends on the specific qualification that you’re studying.

In general though, most people who complete a CMI qualification will find that they are well suited for a range of management roles in different organisations and more senior, strategic roles.

ILM qualifications, with their focus on vocational, practical skills, generally suit people aiming for mid-level leadership and mentorship roles.

Has this guide helped to explain the differences – small as they are – between CMI and ILM qualifications? We hope we’ve helped to dispel some of the myths about the two. Which qualification do you think is best for your management career development?

Climb the career ladder today with an online qualification that you can complete from anywhere. Download your free CMI course guide.