Project managers need to be leaders. Leadership is easy when things are going well. It’s when times are tough that being a good leader can be hard. It’s also the time when strong leadership is most needed. Here are some things to keep in mind to lead your team through a difficult project.

  • Keep your eyes on the big picture. When things get tough, everybody’s temptation is to become acutely focused on the problems. A leader stays focused on the vision of completing the project objectives. The short-term details are important — to the manager role. While you’re managing the details, your leadership keeps everyone focused on the big picture and the value you’re providing. Don’t get bogged down entirely on the details. Continue to lead as well.
  • Maintain team cohesion. When circumstances get tough, even the most loyal team members can tend to become pessimistic. Team members are tempted to start shooting perceived enemies and, unfortunately, they sometimes shoot each other. They begin to question each other and find fault with one another. A leader fights this urge and helps the team stick together.
  • Be the first to sacrifice. When there’s pain to share, leaders should do just that. If the team needs to work overtime, the project manager should work overtime as well. If the project team needs to come in on Saturday, the project manager needs to be in as well. Don’t just share the pain — take more than your share (but not all) of it.
  • Remain calm. Panic is a common human emotion and no one is immune to it. A leader, however, thinks the problems through and remains rational. Being calm will enable the leader to make the right decisions for the entire team. Panic only leads to disaster, while calm leads to victory.
  • Motivate. In tough and challenging times, people tend to get emotionally drained. They can’t see how it’s all going to work out. The project manager should focus on motivating the team and show how the result will be good. A leader must remain positive and likewise keep the team positive.
  • Create small wins. When things are bad, the team starts to wonder how they can win. The project manager should look for ways to win — even small, interim victories. With each small win, the leader will build esteem and a positive attitude.
  • Keep a sense of humor. Hardly anything in life can’t be laughed at. As the project manager you need to look for opportunities to instill fun, and laugh at yourself and the situations that present themselves.

When project managers show leadership, the team will follow – maybe not immediately, but eventually. The project manager is in the right position to lead the charge and get the entire project back on sound footing again.