We all want our projects to thrive and succeed. One person’s definition of what helps make a project successful may differ from another’s, but there is no disputing that good project leadership is a critical factor to project success. And, I am not just talking about management. There is a difference!
Leading a project effectively to its end goal requires project managers to not only encourage team members to get their jobs done efficiently and effectively, but also to have a clear vision, manage multiple schedules, and have the keen ability to balance and stick to a budget.
Is going through these management tasks sufficient? In a word…no. Project management alone does not equal a successful project. What it really takes is effective leadership! While teamwork is at the core of every project, leadership is equally vital. Leadership is the magic ‘ingredient’ for improving a project’s chances at success. Without it, chances are your project will falter or possibly fail.
There are a variety of ways in which a leader impacts the health of a project, including:
- Setting the tone for workplace culture, environment, and behaviors
- Establishing and managing strong relationships with the project sponsor, steering committee, client, and team members
- Directing with honesty, courage, and integrity
Many project managers have found that the practice of leadership, while it may sound easy in theory, is a skill not unlike a muscle that needs to be exercised in order to be strengthened. Technical know-how is important, but it is people skills that hold the key to being a successful project leader.
What Makes a Good Leader?
Some leaders are naturally charismatic with good humor, authenticity, and a courageous curiosity that drives them. Some lead through excellent communication skills and clarity of vision, while others may lead through shared creativity and a natural ability to connect with others.
While there are many ways to be a successful leader, here are some of the most powerful leadership skills that project managers (PMs) should have in order to lead a project to success.
Strong Communication Skills
Effective communication skills are a “must have.” PMs must communicate with a wide range of people both inside and outside of an organization in order to clearly communicate a project’s goals, vision, and guidelines to everyone. Effective communicators also need to be good listeners, and remain open to receiving feedback that may contribute to a project’s success. A good project manager can lead teams, delegate tasks, set project milestones, and manage the project from start to finish. They should also be able to encourage teamwork through strong communication and leadership.
Successful leaders communicate the vision for their project to everyone on the team. This provides a shared vision of the bigger picture and ensures that everyone is on the same page regarding what needs to be done. When the whole project team understands the project vision, everyone is better able to see where they fit into that and how they contribute to the success of the project as individuals and collectively.
Honesty is an important leadership skill to develop in order to promote trust among all the stakeholders involved in a project. Project managers must be able to set guidelines for the whole team to follow and clearly communicate the progress of the project to both stakeholders and team members alike. When project managers lead with integrity and honesty, team members generally follow suit. This leads to personal accountability not just for the PM, but for every person involved in the project.
Actively Engaged with Team
No leader succeeds in a silo alone; they need people to join them and follow their directives to achieve shared goals. People are generally more willing to follow leaders who offer compassion, trust, and stability. Successful leaders recognize the needs of their project and ensure these needs are met throughout the entirety of it. This requires being ‘tapped in’ to team members both as individuals and as a cohesive unit, as well as actively engaging with them on a daily basis, whether it is through team meetings or 1:1 check-ins.
Organized and Adaptable
A good leader has a sharp focus on his or her project goals, while also keeping an eye on the never-ending list of minute details and demands for change and adaptation. Many leaders establish clear timetables of milestones and goals and tie activities and budgets to this timeline to ensure that each goal is met as expected. At the same time, a successful leader must recognize that unforeseen circumstances can—and will—change a timeline and budget, so flexibility for modifications and adaptations is also needed. Successful leaders are flexible throughout project development and execution while keeping their focus on the ultimate goal. It’s no easy task!
Successful projects are led by more than just a manager. They’re led by strong leaders who are a vital asset to the project. When project managers develop key leadership skills in addition to their management and technical skills, every member of the team and the project benefits. It’s a proven fact that project teams work more efficiently under strong leadership. Your project’s chances of success are greatly increased, too!
Do you have any tips for fellow project managers on what it takes to be an effective leader?