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Project Leadership Tips To Grow Your Career & Enhance Your Prospects

Jan Underdown Jan Underdown

Published: 17th January 2021

Just starting out, or well on the way to establishing yourself as a project manager? Either way, these leadership tips could help make this your best year yet.

In order to provide tips for project leadership, it is necessary to look at what project leadership is and what it actually entails. So, whether you are just starting on the ladder of this challenging and exciting career or thinking of making a change to this profession; the following information will help provide you with what you need to know as well as giving some advice along the way:

As PM – What stages do you need to follow?

No – that’s not the Prime Minister although it may well feel like it! A project manager is responsible for heading each and every project they are assigned to from start to finish. This is why leadership is so important to head the following stages:

  • ideas and initiation
  • management (think activity, money and people)
  • execution (including problem-solving along the way)

and finally;

  • successful completion (hopefully on time and within budget).

A Project Manager has to be a Team Player

You may well be leading a project and be “in charge” but you need to be in control without being controlling.  Ultimately, it will be the team of people you are heading that will help to ensure the overall success of a project and nobody works well under an over-bearing manager who “micromanages” every step of the way. It can be a difficult balance to achieve, but you need to be a supervisor, co-worker and sometimes even the office junior all at the same time. In order for this to happen, you will need to be flexible and not be afraid to muck in with your team – be a leader who leads by example.

The difference between a good and truly great project manager is the ability to work creatively and intuitively while still remaining firmly grounded and focused on the task in hand. These skills may be a natural part of your personality makeup or acquired through professional project management training. Still, great project managers need to be able to appraise and adapt to different people quickly, as well as workplace environments, situations and even cultures (if you are working overseas or with foreign clients). Doing so will bring out the best in them to keep the project flowing smoothly towards a successful conclusion.

A Project Manager has to be passionate but also dispassionate

At work, you need to be switched on, but then you also need to know how to switch off at the end of the day because leadership involves downtime – no one wants to be led by a grumpy PM. Being a project manager can be like taking a roller-coaster ride every day where you face ups and downs, twists and turns – especially when you will be the first person your team members will come to with a problem that needs to be solved. Yet, this is what makes this career so exciting and challenging. Although you will need to be passionate about what you do, you also need to temper this with the ability not to get too emotionally involved so that your judgement isn’t clouded and you don’t suffer burn out. To recap on this most important of leadership tips – you need to be flexible in control, trust your intuition but be practical, work alone and be a “people person” and temper your passion for the job with objectivity at the end of the day.

A Project Manager needs to know that the buck stops with you

A daunting fact that really needs to be spelled out is that the success of each and every project rests entirely on your shoulders. This may feel like a heavy burden to bear, but the upside is that you will receive ultimate recognition when a project proves to be successful, and success is built on success. It is always important to keep in mind that although you may have a team of co-workers and contractors to assist you – it is ultimately YOUR effective management and execution of tasks that will get the job done. A leader needs to lead, and so this means that a PM needs to be aware of each project every step of the way. It is an ever-changing dynamic where you will be involved in a constant feedback process of creation and adaptation of continually leading and connecting with everyone involved in the project to see it take form in the outside world.

And if a project fails – then the expression “take me to your leader” becomes a literal one. Effective leadership means being able to be humble, reflect and learn through experience.

skills for project leaders

A Project Manager needs to thrive on variety

Being a project manager is being on a career pathway that never stops changing, and there is no chance of ever becoming bored. After all, you can always switch over or even switch out, meaning you can always change the project you are working on, the team and tools you are working with and even the company and/or industry that you work for.

Being a PM is a profession where training, continuous professional development and real-world experience will all count because it is this that will ultimately provide you with an interchangeable skill set that will enable you to confidently lead pretty much any project you are entrusted with.

And there is no need to worry if being a project manager turns out not to be the best fit for you. This is one profession that by the very nature of its work creates other opportunities and opens further doors that may well have stayed closed for you before.

A Project Manager needs to be a multi-tasker

It may feel as though you should have been born with an extra pair of hands but narrowing down the responsibilities of a PM should help to reassure you that you can juggle everything with one pair. The following 10 point list covers the main leadership duties of a PM:-

  1. Brainstorm, set targets and budgets and manage stakeholder expectations for each project.
  2. Co-ordinate and track each project (perhaps several projects at a time) through the entirety of its life cycle including time management, billing, staff and contractors etc.
  3. Formulate a plan and be confident in using project management tools/software.
  4. Manage, motivate and mentor your team members.
  5. Prioritise!
  6. Ensure all necessary documentation is provided and continually kept up to date.
  7. Know who is doing what. Track worksheets and ensure each project task is completed.
  8. Report any concerning issues to higher management if necessary.
  9. Carry out regular project meetings to inform, educate and evaluate progress (coffee and cake can be great motivators)
  10. Act as the main point of contact for team members, contractors and customers.
project leadership tips

So what are the main Project Leadership Tips?

Resolve to make this year the year that you become a great project leader which, after all, is a project in itself. Practice makes perfect, but the following five leadership tips will certainly help you to identify where you are on the leadership road and inspire you to move onwards and upwards:-

Brush up on your skillset

It is important to have both soft and hard skills in order to lead a project to success, but what is meant by those terms?

Leadership Tips: Soft skills

Soft skills are those we tend to naturally acquire as we mature, such as good manners, getting along with others, listening, and how to communicate effectively. We tend to be drawn to professions that match our soft skills and interests/passions so if you are drawn to project management, you are already halfway there. Still, there is always room to improve, and this is where professional training and CPD can prove to be extremely useful.

Leadership Tips: Hard skills

These skills tend to be those that are teachable and measurable such as reading, writing and operating computer software and programs which – if you want to be a project leader; will include project management tools and apps.

There is no one perfect combination of skills that make a perfect Project Manager. Some project managers do have previous experience from working in IT, accounting, marketing that gives them a solid ground base but if you are confident and can learn quickly on the job, then this will propel you a long way too.

Remember there is no such thing as over-sharing

A project that has failed might have had a very different ending if only the PM had made every piece of pertinent information available. A small but important piece of timely information could be crucial to team members in helping to execute and deliver a task on time. A very important leadership tip, therefore, is the ability to discern what needs passing on at each stage of the project and to do this effectively, whether it’s by written or spoken means.

Linked into this is the ability to spot potential issues and suggest solutions. If you have team members or contractors, for instance, who hold more knowledge on a particular situation or subject, then respect this fact and brainstorm with them. Remember that effective leaders play to the strengths of their team, and open communication helps to build trust and good working relationships where the team will be on your side.

Have the confidence to develop your own way of working

Despite having a good skill set, being confident, enjoying a challenge (and feeling excited at taking a bit of a risk) you will still have to develop your own style of leadership. After all, there is no written instruction with a step by step format on how to achieve success. You will need to be an individual who can work alone at your desk but then take a conference call, hold a team meeting and keep a close eye on budgets, tasks and deadlines all in the same day.

Much of the experience you will need can only truly be learnt on the job such as working with people who will have very different personalities and work strengths, and this can be a steep learning curve in itself. Remember that the quality of your leadership will be reflected back at you by how you lead your team and so it is important to develop a positive and encouraging way of conducting yourself – a “can do” attitude.

As well as good interpersonal skills you will also need to communicate and negotiate with people outside of your immediate team, and this may be even more challenging due to the different set of expectations they may have of you. This is where critical thinking, good negotiation skills and the ability to make quick decisions all come together if you run into a problem.

Keep exploring project management tools

Developing effective working techniques to help make your job easier (remember it can be more productive to work smart rather than hard) includes keeping abreast of the latest tools. It can take some time and testing, but it is worth it in the long run to have systems and apps that can automate a lot of your tasks thus freeing up more time for you and your team.

Considering other leadership tips, it is also important to keep a pragmatic approach alongside your confident, “can do” persona. Mistakes can and do happen, and failure has to be a consideration to keep you on your toes and ensure you have back up plans and procedures in place.

Consider project management education/training

It is never too late to learn and approved and accredited project management courses can provide you with a lot of learning in a short time. After all, it is the desire to continually develop that is probably the most effective leadership tip there is that will help you get to the top and stay at the top of your career.

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