Twelve Keys to Better Project Leadership

In the modern day world of projects, project leaders cannot rely on position power or traditional, autocratic leadership approaches to get the job done. To guide a group of unfamiliar project stakeholders and project team members to accomplish something that has not been done before, you must rely on a different set of skills and leadership principles. As we review the 12 keys to more effective project leadership, please remember this is not an "all-or-nothing" dealit is a continuum. The more of these that you demonstrate, the better leader you will likely be.

  1. It's about the people There are those who maintain that project management is about managing a process (or a workplan), and not about managing people. Are they serious? Who does the work? People. An effective project leader takes a holistic view that puts people first. This approach results in a focus on establishing and building relationships, and on a focus on gaining an authentic understanding and buy-in from each stakeholder.
  2. Visualize the goal…and the way there This is the traditional leadership ability of providing direction to the team. Not only does a project leader need to clearly "see the end" and be able to create this picture for everyone else, but they must also understand how the team is going to get there. The ability to see this "big picture" is vital to keeping the project focused on its primary objectives.
  3. See with "their" eyes A skill that is not natural for many, but an invaluable one if you can do it. Look at your project from the perspective of the other stakeholders. What do they see? What are they thinking? What do they need? This ability to "take another's perspective" is foundational to building better relationships, developing requirements, managing communications, managing expectations, and building a productive project team.


    The ability to effectively communicate (in all forms) is a fundamental skill for project leadership.

  4. Earn their trust Effective leaders are trusted by senior management to do the right thing and to get the job done. They are trusted by other stakeholders because they manage with integrity and consistently seek win-win scenarios to any project challenge.
  5. Earn their respect How do you earn the respect of project stakeholders, when you do not have position power? There are four key behaviors that affect the level of respect granted you by project stakeholders:

    • Show respect First of all, show respect to each person you are dealing with. Listen to themI mean, really listen to them, respect their time, and respect their knowledge, experience, and perspectives.
    • Be real Deal with reality, not what it should be or could be. Your willingness to acknowledge and confront the "realities" of the project will be key to your overall effectiveness.
    • Be fair People may not always like final decisions, but they will respect the decision and you if they feel you handled the situation in a fair manner. An approach to team management, decision-making, and conflict resolution that emphasizes fairness is key to earning the respect of others.
    • Be consistent Lead by example, stick with your decisions, maintain your principles, do what you say you are going to do, and be emotionally steady.
  6. Facilitate progress As a project leader, you are focused on accomplishing the project objectives, and you realize that one of the most important jobs you have is to make it as easy as possible for your team to complete their work. How do you do this? Think of yourself as a "conduit for progress," an "enabler," a "productivity-enhancer." Some key actions include

    • Anticipate issues, work to prevent them, confront and resolve the ones that do occurquickly
    • Create an open and honest team environment where members are encouraged and comfortable to exchange their thoughts and ideas
    • Facilitate the decision-making process
    • Get needed information quickly


      Be the first to take responsibility and the last to take credit.

    • Ensure team has the structure, process, and tools to be as productive as possible
    • Work to reduce the doubt and uncertainty factor for others
  7. Take ownership Let there be no doubt in anyone's mind who is responsible for this project. An "ownership" mindset manifests itself in a persistent, results-focused, no-excuses attitude that is undeniable and contagious to the other team members.
  8. Be resilient Like the proverbial willow tree that shows its true strength when confronted with a ferocious wind, a project leader is able to quickly adapt approach and style to best meet the needs of the project. Through a creative and flexible mindset, a project leader understands that there are many ways to achieve the targeted goals and works to make it happen.
  9. Be a teacher A great model for the modern day project manager is that of a teacher. In many situations, you are literally educating all stakeholders regarding their roles and responsibilities in a project approach. But in all project situations, taking a "teaching mentality"a mindset that sincerely wants others to learn, grow, and improverather than a judgmental view will be paramount to your leadership effectiveness.
  10. Strive for excellence An important trait of effective project leaders is their ability to create confidence that the project will be well-managed and that it will accomplish its goals. How do you do this? Be very good at what you do, know what you are doingexclude competence and professionalism (noteI did not say arrogance). The three simple keys here: be prepared, be organized, and never stop learning and improving.
  11. Compensate for weaknesses A leader is humble enough, has enough self-awareness and is team-focused enough to recognize his weaknesses. From this recognition, he then builds a team and delegates responsibilities to properly compensate. Again, it is difficult to be proficient at everything, and it is much easier to leverage the strengths of yourself and of your team to get the job done.
  12. Showcase self-control As a rule, most effective project leaders are models of self-control. They are consistent and positive in their behaviors and are generally immune from egocentric approaches and significant shifts/swings in their emotional stability (especially negative ones). In addition, they are able to remain calm under pressure and serve as model for others during stressful times.

Depending upon your experiences, organizational culture, and education, these project leadership keys may seem perfectly natural to you or they may seem like the ramblings of academia management theory. In either case, I can attest that each is important to your ongoing project leadership effectiveness.

Part i. Project Management Jumpstart

Project Management Overview

The Project Manager

Essential Elements for any Successful Project

Part ii. Project Planning

Defining a Project

Planning a Project

Developing the Work Breakdown Structure

Estimating the Work

Developing the Project Schedule

Determining the Project Budget

Part iii. Project Control

Controlling a Project

Managing Project Changes

Managing Project Deliverables

Managing Project Issues

Managing Project Risks

Managing Project Quality

Part iv. Project Execution

Leading a Project

Managing Project Communications

Managing Expectations

Keys to Better Project Team Performance

Managing Differences

Managing Vendors

Ending a Project

Absolute Beginner[ap]s Guide to Project Management
Absolute Beginner[ap]s Guide to Project Management
ISBN: 078973821X
Year: 2006
Pages: 169 © 2008-2020.
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