Five Traits of a Great Project Manager: #3 – Strong Leader

In today’s dynamic business environment, managing projects requires more than just knowing the right tools, techniques, spreadsheets, and project management software. An effective project manager needs to inspire the stakeholders—team members, the customer, experts, and the sponsor—to be collaborative, share their expertise, and work together to meet the goals of the project. The project manager is crucial in casting a vision for the project stakeholders and empowering them to reach the finish line. That takes leadership.

Trait #3: Great project managers are strong leaders.

What is leadership?
The thing about leadership is that it’s not just one skill. It encompasses many skills that make up being a good leader. Oftentimes when you ask someone to define what is leadership, you will probably get responses like:
“team builder,”
“effective communicator,”
“problem solver,”
“interpersonal skills,”
“diplomacy.”

Any of these descriptors sound familiar? I hope so!

The truth is, leadership is all of these things and so much more.

To some it may seem that the best leaders have the patience of a saint, the diplomacy of a statesman, and the negotiating skills of a skilled hostage negotiator.


Leadership requires that we look beyond ourselves and see the bigger picture of what we’re trying to accomplish on the project. This skill is not just about leading our team members. Leadership is a critical skill when it comes to managing all of the people and efforts of the project. That includes leading the people who do not report to us and in some aspects leading the individuals who are above our pay grade. Leadership is a skill that requires the ability to garner support, effectively negotiate, be politically aware, and leverage the strength of all involved to accomplish the project goals.

Scenario: The challenges with the Alpha project require a strong leader
You dodged a bullet with the sponsor as he had heard through the grapevine about Sam’s outbursts; the sponsor was having doubts about your ability to lead the project. Not only was he pleased that you took the initiative to tell him face-to-face, but the sponsor was very impressed that you came to him with a solution. In wrapping up the conversation, the sponsor closes with, “Good work. I appreciate you coming to me with this. That is true leadership on your part. While I would like us to be on schedule, I would much prefer a viable, working product out the door.”

Later that day, you have a team meeting and explain the changes with Sam’s leave of absence, explain that Chloe will be assuming much of Sam’s workload, and that now more than ever you need the team to work together. You end the meeting with the following:

“I know we’re going to come across a few snags. Before you come to me with a problem, I ask that you have a couple of solutions to the problem so I can work to get the resources you need. Some of you have come to me looking for more leadership opportunities. This is your chance for the next six months of this project—this project needs leaders. I’m here to help you be great because this product we are building has the potential to be great for our customers.”

After the meeting, Chloe approaches you and says, “We’ve heard these rah-rah speeches before but yours was different. I think because this time you are the first leader who actually walks the talk. Thank you.”

You thank Chloe for her comment and retreat to your office. You pick up your cellphone and call a number you recognize from many conversations, “Hey Joannie. I want to thank you for the job offer, but I’ve still got a lot of work to do here and I want to see it through.”

Developing the skill
Project management is not a one-person show. You need to rally the support of the stakeholders to accomplish the end goal. In the case of managing a team, leadership requires the skills to nurture your team, empower them and impart the vision of the project through to completion. In the case of the wider stakeholder community, leadership requires the ability to manage up, be persuasive, and instill a vision of success that benefits all parties. Here are some tips to develop the skill:

Seek feedback. This takes humility but a willingness to learn from the perspectives of others. Ask your team members how they would describe your leadership style. In turn, ask stakeholders who you hold in high regard and trust they will provide candid feedback. For examples of questions you can ask team members and key project stakeholders, check out this link from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) on questions you can re-frame.

Get a mentor. Being mentored is more than asking how you can be a better leader. A mentor can be one person whom you periodically connect with either via phone conversations, lunch meetings, or via email. Mentors provide insight and perspective as they have been in your shoes in their careers. Connecting with a mentor provides the opportunity to learn from those more experienced than you regarding how they developed their leadership skills.

Be a mentor. Another great way to sharpen your skills as a leader is to be a mentor to others. In this capacity you can share your experiences, the success stories, and the lessons learned. And almost always, I learn something from my mentees on how to be a better leader and grow from the interaction.

To some it may seem that the best leaders have the patience of a saint, the diplomacy of a statesman, and the negotiating skills of a skilled hostage negotiator. Perhaps the latter is a bit of a stretch, but effective project managers use their leadership to influence and empower their team and stakeholders to contribute to the overall success of the project.

A strong leader makes an impact by doing and as a result, others want to follow them.

“A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go, but ought to be.”-Rosalynn Carter

How do you respond when asked to describe leadership? Please share your comments.

If you’d like to learn how to develop your skills as a leader, ask me about my PM TALENT program.

Resources:https://www.thebalancecareers.com/leadership-skills-list-2063757https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/tools-and-samples/hr-forms/pages/cms_002005.aspx

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