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The Definitive Guide to Project Leadership

 MS MS

Published: 13th July 2021

The secret to success is great leadership, and this has never been more important than in the field of project management. A great leader is someone who isn’t afraid to actively get involved in the work that is needed for a project. They do this rather than sitting in their office handing out orders and expecting everyone to deal with what they have been given. A project management leader is someone who ensures that they are part of the team, accessible and take on the shared responsibility of both the team and the stakeholders in order to have the best chance of delivering their project both within budget and on time. 

Whilst leadership is something that can easily be misunderstood, the role that the project management leader plays in the project is simply one of the most important there is. And, it isn’t simply defined as one thing. There are a range of different leadership styles that a project manager may want to adopt.

What are the most common types of project leadership style?

  • Transactional – this type motivates their team by appealing to their self-interest. The power this type of leader has is linked to the position of authority that they hold.
  • Servant – placing the needs of others over own self-interests, serving first and giving power to those in the team that need to be led.
  • Adaptive – this type of leader has the ability to get their team motivated to work on tough challenges where solutions may not be obvious. They can thrive and adapt to their environment.
  • Transformational – a transformational leader is one who influences those around them by what they are able to offer in exchange for help. They have a good bond with their team which can assist in raising the level of motivation, which is good for the team as a whole.
  • Strengths-based – working on the basis that using one’s own strengths can ensure a good job is being done. This method can maximise productivity and efficiency.
  • Leader-Member Exchange – this theory is based on the idea that there are two groups in opposition, the project manager is more likely to favour certain members of the team and give them those tasks with more responsibility whilst the others are asked to do the more monotonous tasks.

What is leadership in a project?

Taking charge of a team and leading them to a successful outcome with a project is project leadership in a simplified form. There is, of course, more to it than that. It also means doing something well with the help of others. A project manager requires certain skills in order to be effective in their role, and these include the vital soft skill of people management. When you undertake training for project managers you will learn that whilst this is a very important skill for the role it is only one of the skills needed by project managers in order to complete the role successfully. 

What does a good project manager need for great leadership?

It is imperative for a project manager to be a good team player. Whilst they may be the person in charge of the project and therefore ultimately in charge of any major decisions, it is all about maintaining that control without micromanaging and being over controlling. A project manager needs a good team behind them. And, that means being a good team player in order to get the best out of each and every one in the team. Whether this is a skill that comes naturally to you or one that you work on over a period of time it is a vital skill to master. Such soft skills can make or break a project.

Communication skills are the single most important skill that a project manager needs for great leadership, but this means more than just being able to speak. Great communication is about knowing how to talk to a range of people, from stakeholders to the most junior team members. But more importantly, communication is about being able to listen as well. Sometimes the most effective solution for a problem your team are facing may come from the most unexpected team member. But, if you are not willing to listen, it may have serious implications for your project budget and deadlines.

In addition to these vital traits a great project manager is also:

  • Analytical
  • Able to create solutions
  • Able to evaluate risk
  • Capable of motivating people
  • Able to achieve results
  • Capable of building cohesion

Even the best project manager will tell you thought that these skills, and indeed the leadership role, is not always the same from one project to another and it is important to remain flexible. It is this ability to approach a project from any angle that makes for great leadership.

Project management tools

When it comes to being an effective leader, the right project management tools can make all the difference to how you lead your projects. There are so many different project management software products on the market that it can be hard to know which one will work best for your project. Therefore, it is advised to look at all of the different features that they offer you and consider which ones will really help with your project. Remember, not all projects are the same so you may even find that you need different tools for different projects.

Gantt charts for project planning

Of course, even with the best project management tools it is important for the project manager to follow a set plan in order to ensure the smooth running of the project.

The first thing that the project manager should consider putting together is a plan. Even the. best project manager with a wealth of leadership skills would flounder if they tried to complete a project without a project plan; they are absolutely vital. One tool that can be worth considering for this is an interactive Gantt chart. Whether you choose to use the templates that are provided of add your tasks yourself they make a great place to start. A good Gantt chart will allow you to see everything that pertains to the timeline of your project in one place making it clear and simple to follow.

Work scheduling

Once every bit of information has been added to a Gantt chart it is much easier to arrange a schedule. This will allow you to add important information like due date, milestones, dependencies etc. This will give your project team a much clearer picture of who will be working on what element of the project, and more importantly how long they have to do it. This will also give you a vital chance to discuss the schedule with the team members to make sure that there are no issues that you haven’t considered.

Progress tracking

Good software will allow you to see exactly what is going on with your project all the time. This is a particularly important feature when there are team members working in different locations. Keeping all of your communication within the software also means that there is a record of everything. In addition to this, there will be less of a chance of important information being overlooked, as can all too easily happen with an email. It also means that should something unexpected happen that can have an impact on your budget or timescale you will be able to see it before it is too late.

Being able to track your progress in specifically designed project management software also has other benefits. It means that should a stakeholder want a sudden update you will be able to see the most accurate picture of where everyone is up to with the project. This communication might simply be verbal, but if the stakeholder wants a printed report this is also easy enough to do.

What traits might mean you need to improve your project leadership skills?

Being a project leader isn’t necessarily something that comes naturally. There are some people to whom leadership skills come naturally and there are others who need to put more work into it to get where they need to be. The good news is that many of the important skills can actually be learnt and refined over time. You can effectively go about making yourself a better project manager with each new project that you undertake.

There are, however, some occasions when it may be necessary to look at the skills that you have and make some changes:

  • Over involvement – Whilst it is a good idea for the team manager to understand where everyone on the team is up to, it is important for a project manager not to get too involved. This is especially when it comes to the point where they are micromanaging. If your team don’t think that you trust them to do the work that has been assigned to them then they are likely to be resentful. This is not good for morale.
  • Lack of training – If you have never undertaken any form of formal training, and all of your skills have been picked up on the job, then you may find it beneficial to enrol in some form of training. This could help you develop your project management leadership skills. There are a range of different courses out there that can fit in around any other commitments that you might have.
  • Lack of team development – developing the team is a significant part of the project management role. Those who form the team should continually be progressing and growing with their own skillset. If this is not happening, then you need to take a look at your leadership skills and make adjustments.
  • Too much team conflict – if there is excessive conflict within your team then you may need to consider why that is. Not all “excessive” conflict is necessarily bad as long as it is dealt with properly. If the conflict is not productive then you need to look at how you are addressing it.
  • High turnover of employees – It is said that employees do not leave their jobs, they leave their leaders. If your employee turnover is high, then it may be that your leadership has a role to play in that.

Being a great leader and understanding how to apply all of the skills that you have learnt are vital for any project manager who is looking to do their best with each project that they undertake. Project management isn’t a “one size fits all” kind of thing. Some projects will need different types of leadership style, different types of project management software and simply different approaches. Being able to adapt to this ever-changing environment is truly important.

As you can see, there are a number of different signs that indicate that you need to work on your leadership skills. If you have noticed any of the indications that have been mentioned above, now would be a good time to look at the ways that you can hone your skills to the benefit of yourself and your team.

Management vs Leadership

Leadership and management of a team are not the same, although many believe that they are. Both are however equally important.

A good leader if someone who will inspire those around them, they will motivate their team and give them the encouragement and assistance that they need in order to overcome obstacles along the way.

Management, on the other hand, is the process of managing things and people, with an emphasis on things. Planning, coordinating and organisation. A manager is particularly skilled when it comes to being methodical with their workload and ensuring that everything that is planned goes as it is meant to.

A project manager needs to be a mixture of both of these in order to achieve the best results from their project. This is something that takes skill and dedication in order to achieve the best balance. There are times when leadership will be needed, times when management will need to take the lead and times when the blend of both will be required.

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