Leadership

Three leadership behaviors of successful project managers

Andy Makar discusses three leadership behaviors that every project manager should strive to demonstrate. Let us know which leadership behaviors you would add to the list.

A lot of project management articles focus on technical aspects of the work (e.g., the latest tool, template, or technique to help manage scope, schedules, and people), but it's just as important to focus on the social and cultural aspects of project management. Leadership, teamwork, negotiation, problem solving, and politics also have a significant impact on a project's success.

Leadership frameworks can be taught in business schools and professional development courses, but leadership behaviors need to be learned and demonstrated. I once worked for a company that identified three specific leadership behaviors that project managers should demonstrate in addition to successful project delivery. Here's a look at the three leadership behaviors.

Leadership behavior #1: Demonstrate a drive for results

Project management isn't easy or filled with glory. The reality is that projects are tough and can be stressful, frustrating, and have administrative challenges that can detract from the end goal. Focusing on the tasks that need to be accomplished (regardless of obstacles) and keeping the end goal in mind are easier said than done, but both concepts are critical nonetheless.

Effective project managers take responsibility to achieve the results defined by the project; this means you may not be able to simply delegate tasks to others and wait for the status update. On some of my projects, I never thought I'd be the person responsible for data cleanup in legacy systems or have to conduct menial and administrative tasks in preparation for the next day's workshop; however, sometimes completing menial tasks and focusing on the end result helps move the project forward.

Leadership behavior #2: Demand the truth

In order to making the best decisions, project managers need to know the real issue or risk affecting the project. Effective project managers need to demand the truth from their teams and then present the truth to their management and peers. Minimizing problems and hiding issues with colorful explanations doesn't help the project team or the project manager succeed. By asking team members to explain the status in basic terms without corporate rhetoric or political spin, the entire team will benefit.

Leadership behavior #3: Demonstrate courage

Projects don't always go as planned, and it's the project manager's job to present the current status updates and describe any corrective actions needed to improve project performance. In some organizational cultures, there is a tendency to avoid reporting bad news until it's too late. If you present a positive status update, it may give you a little more time to resolve problems on your own, but when a project is in trouble, project managers often need management support and attention to help turn things around.

It takes courage to communicate that there are problems with the project and to ask for help. It takes courage to have a conversation with a team member who isn't performing well or to talk with a peer who isn't providing the necessary support. It takes courage to make the hard decisions to cancel a project to save funding or to let an employee know they no longer have a position with the project. As project managers, these situations are difficult, but dealing with them is our job.

More leadership behaviors

It's difficult to try to categorize all the leadership behaviors a successful project manager needs to exhibit into just three areas. A commitment to customer satisfaction, a focus on quality, and continuous improvement are secondary behaviors that I'd add to the list. Successful project managers possess the technical project management skills and the leadership behaviors to deliver a project.

What leadership behaviors would you add to the list? Share your feedback in the discussion.

About

Dr. Andrew Makar is an IT program manager and is the author of How To Use Microsoft Project and Project Management Interview Questions Made Easy. For more project management advice visit http://www.tacticalprojectmanagement.com.

20 comments
sparent
sparent

When I put myself down as non-PM task owner, I have to be really careful. As a general rule, I avoid putting myself on the critical path!

javier_cliquea
javier_cliquea

In my experience there are two key behaviors for success: communication with ALL stakeholders (put extra effort to identify all stakeholders and develop a communication plan), and Risk Management (putting effort on prevention rather than on problem solving),

GreggOliver
GreggOliver

The ability to relate a vision, build and demonstrate the mutuality of benefits derived from good performance, and the ability to inspire. these are in addition to the basic management tasks of assembling the right resources, organizing work, assigning tasks, and coaching performance.

ray.derkacz
ray.derkacz

In my experience the key to leading a project through to a successful outcome is effective engagement with ALL project stakeholders. I am a great believer in making sure that each stakeholder has a good answer to "what's in it for me?". At project start-up it is crucial that all parties buy into the project 'terms of reference' and that good communication is maintained throughout the project to effectively manage issues, risks and changes that arise. In three words: communication, communication, communication.

carmab
carmab

I believe that one of the key leadership behaviours required by a successful Project Manager is to demonstrate Composure. Showing composure gives confidence to management, even when you are making them aware of issues or risks to the project. Showing composure will also make your team feel that they can be truthful with you about progress of problems without you getting angry or annoyed with them. Most importantly, being composed (rather than just showing it) will help you to make good decision at important times, a key element of our job.

cybergrrl
cybergrrl

I think this encompasses several points already made - state clear goals and expectations, listen to and acknowledge team members input, provide tools to your team and help clear obstacles in their way, give direct feedback often and empower your team.

SteelVelvet
SteelVelvet

The need for excellent communication cannot be overstated. Communicate to the project stakeholders, the project team and your contractors/suppliers. And communicate in the manner that they prefer, i.e., email, one-on-one meetings, staff meetings.

donstrayer
donstrayer

Verba movent, exempla trahunt (Words move people, examples lead them)

sweetings
sweetings

These items below are certainly not the be all to end all. But, they are the items that came readily to mind while reading the article. Treat your team as equal partners in the project and do not micro-manage Give the team the space and resources to do their job Discuss group or common issues collectively so that all of the team hears the same comment or instruction Be realistic in requests and time lines ??? the impossible is quickly spotted and discarded along with respect for you Strive for economy in process and cost ??? remember that cheap is exactly as it sounds

nargundkarshekhar
nargundkarshekhar

Dear Dr. Makkar, In my opinion, if the leader demonstrates first two behaviours, it is implied that he has the third one. Therefore, i would like to add the third one. Project Manager should not only lead his team, but external stakeholders also. So he must negotiate and persuade them to his vision of the project in the best interest of all and above all the interest of customer.

jforonda
jforonda

Set your objectives and expectations clear at the very beginning with the appreciation of the team member???s capabilities and limitations.

pshorock
pshorock

When communicating expectations, your role should be to focus on what needs to be done rather than how to do it. This entails defining the playing field by outlining what the operating boundaries are, what resources are available [or not], which governing directives and standards apply. Then get out of their way.

JimWillette
JimWillette

Communicate clearly, but listen more than you talk.

deanwhitehead
deanwhitehead

A leading and oft-cited cause of job dissatisfaction is unclear expectations. Better organizations and managers communicate clear expectations from the start, often with written documents, get individual buy-in, and offer reminders as necessary as work unfolds. This goes for all members of a project team, including the Executive Sponsor and Key Stakeholders.

Sovello
Sovello

Some of the managers diverge too far from the main scope of the project, and end up not delivering what was to be delivered. They have something to demonstrate though, but it was not the target of the project as a whole. A JACK OF ALL, A MASTER OF NONE! As a manager you are not expected to engage fully in performing the project tasks, but you are to manage that the tasks keep going, only in very rare moments should you do that. Not being the main performer of the tasks, you have to listen to the members who are actually down to the tasks, these will give a reality. When the manager interferes their opinion by assuming he/she knows everything causes the project not to move, because always the performers will be discredited for almost everything they have done and will have to go back and implement the manager's idea.

blarman
blarman

While I don't disagree with the three in the article, I put them further down on my list. #1. Know your people. Loyalty is hard to come by, and circumstances aren't always as they seem. Get to know your people: what drives them, what interests them, what their specialties are and what they'd like to do. This will help you put the best people in the right places. Know where to find the round peg for the round hole. #2. Allow others to contribute. You don't have to control every detail about the project. By backing off a little, you encourage others to step forward with ideas and become valuable contributors. #3. Recognize achievement. From an office Nerf war to white water rafting to some PvP in your video game of choice, make sure there is a light at the end of the tunnel. This applies to individual projects as well as group ones. #4 Set clear goals. There is no excuse for managers who do not set clear and realistic expectations with their subordinates. You can't manage someone without knowing 1)what it is they are supposed to do 2)by what day 3)using what tools. #5. Give honest, timely feedback. If someone in your group is underperforming, find out what is keeping that person from achieving. Work with them where possible to help make up the difference. This is an opportunity to reinforce #1 and also helps them know you want them to succeed. It also leaves failure squarely upon their shoulders.

mkogrady
mkogrady

Don't micro-manage the guys doing the work. Make sure they have the tools and resources they need and then get out of their way so they can run.

jabermudez
jabermudez

Other behaviours/leadership that I find also very important are understand and apply Delegation, Right Time Management for your own activities and for your team and Team Development, Providing feedback regulary for your team is a easy practique and often not very used

larry.reynolds
larry.reynolds

I have found that taking good care of my team, ensuring they have the tools they need, the time needed to refresh and rejuvenate, and as a metacommunication that I genuinely care about their welfare, the obstacles they encounter and help them mitigate those obstacles.

noraziah_ag
noraziah_ag

I truly agree with you Larry. When you take care of your team, you help them doing their job smoothly to meet the desired target. By taking care of their needs and helping them with the obstacles, you help them to focus on their job and hence produce a better result. Moreover, you'll create a happy and cooperative team.

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