Head of State vs. Head of Government

… a core term in Governance and Institutions and Atlas100


In a parliamentary system, the head of state can be a monarch or her representative whereas in a presidential system the president can be both the head of government and the head of state.

Reference.com describes the difference as follows:

“Although the head of state [in a parliamentary system] usually does not hold any type of executive or legislative role, she holds a symbolic role. A head of state acts as a symbol of national identity and helps promote unity and pride. She also acts as the symbol of the nation for the international community, receiving and hosting foreign ambassadors. The ability to pass legislation is left in the hands of the head of government.

The head of government oversees the operation of the civil service and government agencies and appoints members of the government. In a presidential system, a single individual holds both titles and does both sets of duties. This is seen in the United States, South America and some African countries.”

As to the question of whether Canada’s head of state is The Queen or the Governor General, see Governor General of Canada.

Atlas topic, subject, and course

Constitutional Framework (core topic) in Governance and Institutions and Atlas100 Governance and Institutions.


Reference.com, What is the difference between “head of state” and “head of government”?, at https://www.reference.com/government-politics/difference-between-head-state-head-government-22050887e8779784, accessed 15 August 2016.

Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified on 25 August 2016.