A career path is project management will bring many demands and challenges and as a project manager, there is an expectation you will show thoughtful diligent leadership. No matter which industry you are working in, choosing and sticking with a leadership style will be key to success. Just how do you forge your own style and stick with it?
Leading and managing – what’s the difference?
As part of earning professional project management qualifications, you will consider what attributes and skills are needed of a project manager. Leadership will figure high on the list, and no wonder because without an effective leader at its helm, any project will stutter and falter.
But what is the difference between leadership and management? Is there one? Experts on leadership and management advocate that there is.
Managing has a specific role to play in a project – as a project manager you will provide direction, react to change and plan what your team are doing as well as planning the journey of the project within the confines and boundaries set.
As a leader, you will seek to…
- Inspire – as a leader, you will paint a picture of what is possible, engaging and inspiring your team to turn this vision into a reality. You will work with your high-functioning team to accomplish more by working together rather than against each other.
- Be an agent for change – innovation is the key to success, something that will neither frighten you nor be allowed to hold your project back. In other words, you will welcome input from your team to develop a better way forward. Envy and insecurity are not in your professional vocabulary as you’ll accept that change is essential for refining systems, structures and processes.
- Be unique – all too often within a professional setting, we are taught that personality-led projects are doomed to fail because once the personality is removed, it all drops away. But leaders understand that their unique vision and personal brand is, in fact, an important tool in progressing a project to its successful completion. With a commitment to the project and to your team, you are all pulling in the same direction.
- Take risks – but you are not erratic or reactive. You’ll try new things because you will have the ability to think through what could and may not happen. You’ll have the vision to understand that sometimes, trying is better than failing without doing nothing.
- Be in it for the long haul – there is a certain personality trait that most project managers bring to the fore and that is the commitment to see a project through from start to finish. Leadership is the blueprint seen in people who are in it for the long haul, reaching for long-distance goals that others can’t see yet.
- Continually grow your professional development – as well as relying on proven skills and abilities, as a leader you will continually seek to develop and learn new things. Whether this is a new process or learning how to use a new piece of technology, by staying relevant and in sync with what is happening in your industry, you have a key strand of leadership quality.
- Build relationships – leaders have a very keen sense of just what people add to a project, not just the process, policies and procedures (although these are, of course, important).
Can you think of a leader that did all of these things? What about those that fell short of your expectations?
Being a leader is not something that comes naturally to everyone. Some people lead from the front, with little or no effort, and teams seem to follow. They never seem to ‘get anything wrong’ or when they make a mistake, it is a positive rather than a negative.
Being an effective and successful leader are big shoes to fill. You need to deliver all of the above in your own style and your own way. But how do you create a leadership style and stick to it?
The answer lies in knowing who you are and what you really bring to the project.
6 steps to figuring out your leadership style
1 What are your PERSONALITY TRAITS?
We all have them and they are all different. Personality traits are those inbuilt nuances, reactions and responses we instinctively trust when something changes or happens. The only way to understand your leadership skills and style is to examine the dominant characteristics of your personality.
That’s the start – the second part is to pay attention to how your personality characteristics play out in terms of your work, your friendships and relationships.
How do you think (or know) other people describe you? For example, when there is a deadline and the pace of work has picked up, how do you handle stress? Does it make you snappy with excitement or impulsive and reckless?
Are you patient, quiet and observational in character? Or loud, extrovert and directive? The important thing to remember is that no characteristic is negative unless it is out of control.
2 What are your VALUES?
Your personal and professional values are the yardsticks by which others will measure you. You may not walk around with your values ‘on show’ but how and why you react and respond in the way that you do will give other subtle (and not-so-subtle) hints as to your personality and leadership qualities.
Values help us determine who to rely on, how someone will react in a certain situation and even who we want to continue working with in the future. In terms of leadership, when people can’t connect or determine what the values of a leader are, they become suspicious of their abilities.
Your team will look to you for direction on all manner of aspects relating to the project which is why it is important that they trust you. This means you need to develop your own leadership style so that you negate the feelings of distrust and suspicion that people can have when they feel their ‘leader’ has their own personal agenda.
And so what values do people seek in a leader? They want to see evidence of respect, impact, authenticity, courage and integrity. How you behave and interact, connect and engage with teams, stakeholders and clients will be symptomatic of your values.
If you want to be a successful leader, you need to identify what your core values and beliefs are and build them into your leadership ability and qualities.
3 What are your WEAKNESSES?
We all have them but not all of us are very good at admitting we have weaknesses nor identifying what they are.
It is a common misconception that to be a truly great and successful leader, you rely on your strengths alone. But the key to improving your leadership style is understanding what your weaknesses are.
When we know where we are lacking – maybe it is certain skills and abilities – we can decide what to do about them. In some instance, improving on a weakness may be about extending learning but in other instances, it could be competency based which means we need to expand our base of experience.
As a leader, we can also feel that admitting our weaknesses, being transparent about our flaws somehow diminishes our ability to lead. But in fact, it can have the opposite effect.
4 Do you seek FEEDBACK?
You will not gain a full and true understanding of your leadership style until you welcome and listen to feedback.
What do colleagues think of your leadership style, in particular, the behaviours that you show? How you collect this feedback can impact on what and how people feed back. Face to face they may be ‘nicer’ but more willing to share finer points and details if it is anonymous written feedback…
Building a culture of feedback is no bad thing in project management because as a leader if you have an understanding and a knowledge of how to meet the needs of your team, you will have a far more successful project on your hands.
5 How well do you DELEGATE (if at all)?
Sometimes, it is hard to let go. You are the project manager, the designated leader, paid and relied upon to deliver your section of the project on time and on budget.
It is important but this curtain of importance can cloud our vision. What we come to assume is that we are the only person who can and should deliver certain parts of the project. Thus we keep things to ourselves.
The problem with this is that this can undermine the progress of the project. Don’t forget we have talked of weaknesses and strengths previously and so by not delegating, you may be doing a disservice to the project by not tapping into the strengths of your team.
However, there is always a balance. Delegating is not ‘dumping’ stuff on other people because you don’t have the time, energy or drive to complete. Nor is it something you do because you don’t want to complete something.
As a leader, delegation is about understanding the best process and people to complete a certain aspect of the project.
6 Who INFLUENCES YOU?
As a leader and project manager, how you lead will, to a certain extent, be influenced by how you see and interact with other people.
This isn’t just for leadership within project management but all walks of life. Teachers influence us, as do our parents and their values and beliefs set. Within your career, you will be influenced by other leaders and managers.
We take all these experiences, the good and the bad, and allow them to inform how and what we do in certain situations. When we have a bad experience of a leader, we promise ourselves we won’t act in the same way, just as we model ourselves on the one person who made a difference.
Defined leadership styles
There are defined leadership styles, some of which work better in some situations than others. It is not a case of reading down the list and choosing which one you think is right. In some cases, opting for a different style at certain times may be needed.
Autocratic leadership is when everything revolves around the leader and their decisions, with little or no flexibility and yet a democratic leader will canvass opinion and input.
Or maybe you will be a strategic leader, someone who acts as the head of the project and use your analytical and strategic thinking skills to push the project where it needs to be. A transformational leader is similar, pulling the project along by willing to take risks and empowering their team.
Or will you have a laissez faire approach where you determine a lot of authority to your team, a style of leadership at the opposite end of the spectrum to the autocratic style?
However, here’s the thing: you may find you don’t need a label for the ‘type’ of leader you are.
What determines your leadership style – personality and skills
Leadership is key to the success of any project that you manage. Your team need to be able to access the information that they need, feedback issues including what went well, in addition to being able to rectify mistakes and deal with problems as they arise.
Your team have expectations and one is that as the project leader, you have the ability and approachability to be able to complete the project. In addition, the experience afforded by working on a range of projects, and a firm foundation on which to build your own unique and successful project leadership style.