Reflecting a core topic from our last PM-Perspectives event, we delve into the area of project leadership and how managers and leaders (and those keen to progress to the next level) can hone their leadership skills and bring out the best in their teams.
The quality of a project’s leadership is often the difference between success and failure, which is why project managers must arm themselves with the right skills to ensure their team hits every predefined goal – preferably on time and under budget. Poor leadership can cause projects to become directionless and even negatively impact the team’s collaborative qualities and productivity.
Findings from LinkedIn’s Workplace Learning Report 2023 highlight the critical importance of leadership skills to today’s organisations, particularly in the project sphere. Of the skills companies need most right now, leadership abilities were ranked fourth out of ten across business functions and second for project and programme managers.
By training yourself to be an adaptable leader – one who can tweak their leadership style according to both the project and your team’s unique personalities – you will be able to identify and mitigate risks, manage changing stakeholder demands, and ultimately guide your team towards a common goal.
Here’s how to take your project leadership to the next level by acquiring the traits and skills of an effective leader.
The difference between project leadership and management
The effectiveness of a project leader’s skill set has a direct influence not only on the project’s final outcome, but also the team’s morale, risk management, stakeholder interactions, the employee experience and more.
Importantly, while project management focuses primarily on the planning, organising and controlling of resources, project leadership is more about motivating and guiding your team throughout the entire project’s lifecycle.
Leadership skills required for effective project leadership
Effective project leadership involves a combination of hard (or technical) skills and soft (or interpersonal effectiveness) skills. And it is the latter which are most influential to becoming a competent leader. From communication and collaboration, to emotional intelligence, keen decision-making and conflict resolution, project leaders must possess a variety of soft skills in order to build and manage high-performing teams over the long term.
Examples of leadership styles
There are various leadership styles that project leaders can adopt depending on the nature of the project or product, as well as your team’s dynamic and the overall culture of the organisation. Here are some of the most common leadership approaches:
- Servant: Puts the needs of team members first. By serving their needs, leaders often earn higher levels of trust and engagement.
- Transformational: Inspires and motivates team members to achieve their full potential. When successful, this approach leads to more creativity and innovation throughout the project.
- Situational: An adaptive leadership style based on the specific project. Depending on the skill levels and personalities of the team, their approach will differ.
- Transactional: Generally focuses on rewards and punishment as a way to motivate team members to hit project targets.
Traits of effective project leaders
If you are looking to progress your career and move into more of a leadership position, there are some innate traits you may already possess; others you may be able to adopt with the right training and professional development.
The bottom line is that modern project leaders must be strategic business partners who are fully committed to the organisation’s success. Here are some of the traits that effective project leaders possess:
- Visionary: Has a clear vision of the project’s objectives and the ability to effectively communicate with every member of the team.
- Decisive: Able to make timely and informed decisions – sometimes based on changing stakeholder demands – to keep the project on track.
- Resilient: Finds it easy to remain calm under pressure and navigate any new challenge as it arises.
- Empathetic: Understands the needs of individual team members and shows empathy towards their specific needs.
- Collaborative: Believes that fostering collaboration and teamwork is the best way to achieve project goals.
- Communicative: A born communicator, they very clearly and positively interact with team members, stakeholders and other contributors to the project.
- Innovative: Outside-the-box thinkers who are willing to test out new approaches as needed.
- Trustworthy: Generates trust and credibility with team members and stakeholders by being honest and giving them the freedom to be creative.
How to improve your project leadership skills
Building a high-performance team is just as much down to the leader as it is the individuals working on the project. Here are some ways you can improve your own project leadership skills:
1. Profile your team members
Project leaders should take the time to get to know every team member, working to better understand their strengths, communication preferences and overarching goals. Behavioural profiling is particularly useful here.
As Natalie Waters, special guest at our last PM-Perspectives event puts it: “Through working with senior management and leaderships teams, a Team Behavioural Profile assessment uses individual data collected from individual profiles and plots together all team members, encompassing their individual motivators, strengths, communication preferences and in general how they interact with one another. This is a crucial report that will give an excellent overview on all team members with the view of ensuring they are all working to their best of their ability towards the department’s common initiatives, values, vision and mission.”
2. Provide context
Good leaders are able to provide clear context around their expectations to help team members understand their role within the project. Team members who are able to see the ‘bigger picture’ will make better decisions and take greater ownership of their work, which can supercharge project results and potentially lead to a more motivated team.
3. Lead by example
What do you expect from your team members? Then you should model that same behaviour for them. Solid leaders hold themselves accountable and are transparent about their decision-making. Leading by example means setting a positive tone – whether that’s encouraging teamwork, recognising the contributions of individuals or promoting a culture of continuous improvement.
4. Provide opportunities for growth
Providing growth opportunities can help your team feel more valued and invested in the project’s success. Training, mentoring, coaching, career development opportunities – all these and more can improve team members’ skills and knowledge. By investing in their development, you are telling them you are invested in their future success, leading to a more motivated and high-performing team. Tapping into PM-Partners’ Capability Hub is a great place to start, providing leaders with a clear picture of current capabilities and where to focus their uplift efforts.
Ultimately, successful project management relies on good project leadership. When leaders possess a combination of hard and soft skills, and have the capacity to adopt the most appropriate leadership approach for any situation, they can build high-performing teams that boost project outcomes.
For more information and advice on uplifting your leadership capabilities, or developing a culture of excellence within your organisation with our in-house capability uplift programs, contact our expert training and development consultants by completing our online form or calling us on 1300 70 13 14 today.