Team Productivity

5 Ways Project Managers Can Be Great Leaders

Brett Harned
July 2, 2015
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Project managers often struggle with leadership—and where they can find appropriate opportunities to be true leaders. It makes sense, as most project managers do not have any direct responsibility for the people on their teams, but they are expected to manage and motivate teams to deliver projects on time and under budget. For that reason alone, being a project manager requires some tenacity, as well as a natural desire to lead.

Do you have that natural desire? Some of us do, and some of us need a little coaching to gain the confidence to believe in our own leadership skills. Read through these five tips and give yourself a boost.

1. Focus on good communications

It always comes back to being a good communicator! Good leaders communicate in ways that engage a dialogue but establish authority in their own realm. Project managers are team leaders, and such, they control all project details and facilitate healthy conversation to ensure good collaboration and positive outcomes. That’s a great start, but how can you be a good communicator and establish PM leadership?

First, you must keep all team and client communications in the open. Share meeting notes and conversation details in a central repository. When decisions are made, make sure the team is aware. If someone challenges a decision or has a complain, listen to them respectfully. Being a leader doesn’t mean you get to just call all of the shots. It means that you listen, weigh alternatives, consult the team, and make a decision that will benefit the project. Find more tips on being a great communicator in Chapter One of the Guide to Project Management.

2. Build trust

Inspiring trust and credibility with others can be difficult when you’re the person sitting in the middle of a team and clients, and you have to keep a budget and timeline in mind at all times. People tend to think you'll put the budget or timeline ahead of them. But if you’re a good project manager and a true leader, you put people first. After all, they are the ones who make or break the project.

So how do you build trust? It’s as simple as building relationships. Show that you care about the people by listening to them, making time for them, and truly engaging in your projects. As soon as people see that you care about them and the project (not just the budget and timeline), they will trust you. There’s a wealth of information on how to embed yourself on a team and gain trust in Chapter 9 of the Guide to Project Management.

3. Lead change

True leaders inspire and motivate their teams to be better. As a project manager, you should feel the power to instigate change on your projects. Try new processes and techniques. Challenge ideas and push boundaries. Make it okay to make mistakes. Have fun and evolve the way your team works, and you will lead them to successful projects time and time again.

4. Be an honest project manager

Leaders are often armed with a lot of information—financial, personnel, operational—and it’s hard to know when to use or share that information. But no matter the circumstance, your best bet is to use your instinct and be honest when you know the information with help a team member or the project.

When you’re up against a potentially negative situation that could become bigger, stop it. Assess the problem and be honest about the potential outcomes. If it might affect a person, tell them immediately. The best way to resolve any kind of conflict is through honesty.

The best way to live your professional life is to always be honest.

5. Think strategically

While the PM always has his or her handle on the project budget and timeline, they should not only focus on matters about them. Leaders think about the bigger picture and look at long-term impacts of decisions. Good project managers lead their teams to project success by focusing on the present, but always keeping an eye on the future by planning and anticipating next steps, issues, and potential concerns.

If you engage the team on conversations about the project, decisions being made, and ideas that are being pondered, as well as the issues they’re facing, you will always have a clear view on where your project is headed.

Lead first, manage second

No matter what you do as a project manager, remember that you are seated on the project to lead your team to a successful delivery. Yes, this means that you need to manage the details, but more so it means that you need to rise to the occasion every day and act as the project champion. If you accept the challenge, you will see that your team will naturally accept you as their fearless leader. Learn additional tips that the world's most successful project managers incorporated into their projects.

Chances are, if you’re a project manager, you’re a natural leader. if you need more help building your PM skills and gaining confidence in how you conduct your work, check out our library of project management guides. It’s full of resources to help you be a better PM.


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