Three Essential Leadership Behaviors for Project Managers


In my series mastering the basics of project management I used to focus on technical aspects of the work (e.g., tool, templates, or technique to help manage scope, schedules, and people), but it’s also important to bring out on the social and cultural aspects of project management as leadership, teamwork, negotiation, problem solving, and politics also have a significant impact on a project’s success.

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It’s no longer enough, nowadays, study deeply the leadership frameworks at business schools and MBAs, but leadership behaviors need to be learned and demonstrated, in other words, they need to be truly incorporated into the behavior of the Project Manager and thus are likely to generate positive outcomes for the project team and the company as a whole.

I used to think that a sucessful project manager must have, at least, this three essential leadership behaviors: (1) Demonstrate passion for results; (2) Demand the truth and (3) Demonstrate courage. Let’s talk a little bit about them after the jump.

So, let’s go!

Demonstrate passion for results: You know as well as I that Project management isn’t an easy job with a golden path to glory and fortune. The reality is that projects are tough and usually can be stressful, frustrating, and have administrative and operative challenges that can detract from the final objective. Focusing on the tasks that need to be accomplished (regardless of obstacles) and keeping the end goal in mind are easier said than done, but both concepts are critical nonetheless.

So, if you want to be an effective project manager, you must need to take responsibility to achieve the results defined by the project; this means you may not be able to simply delegate tasks to others and wait for the status update. On some of my projects, I never thought I’d be the person responsible for tasks like spending hours in a datacenter recovering infected servers or  have to conduct menial and administrative tasks in preparation for the next day’s meeting; however, sometimes completing menial tasks and focusing on the end result helps move the project forward. It’s your duty make the right things happen!

Demand the truth: the truth is all you need, as a project manager. In order to making the best decisions, you need to know the real issue or risk affecting the project. Effective project managers need to demand the truth from their teams and then present the truth to their management and peers. Minimizing problems, having a secret agenda and hiding issues with colorful explanations doesn’t help the project team or the project manager succeed. By asking team members to explain the status in basic terms without corporate rhetoric or political spin, the entire team will benefit and your job will be a little easy.

Cheri Hottinger posted a great history about courage, honesty and the importance of the truth in her Naples Girl Blog.

Demonstrate courage: Projects don’t always go as planned and, sometimes, is a Project Manager role to report some very bad news to the company’s board  and describe any corrective actions needed to improve project performance.Personally, I never understand it but, in some organizational cultures, there is a tendency to avoid reporting bad news until it’s too late. If you present a positive status update, it may give you a little more time to resolve problems on your own, but when a project is in trouble, project managers often need management support and attention to help turn things around.

It takes courage to communicate that there are problems with the project and to ask for help. It takes courage to have a conversation with a team member who isn’t performing well or to talk with a peer who isn’t providing the necessary support. It takes courage to make the hard decisions to cancel a project to save funding or to let an employee know they no longer have a position with the project. As project managers, these situations are difficult, but dealing with them is our job. You must be brave to be a project manager!

More leadership behaviors

It’s difficult to try to categorize all the leadership behaviors a successful project manager needs to exhibit into just three areas. A commitment to customer satisfaction, a focus on quality and excellence, and continuous improvement are secondary behaviors that I’d add to the list. Successful project managers possess the technical project management skills and the leadership behaviors to deliver a project.

II would like to know your opinion: what leadership behaviors would you add to the list? Please, share your feedback in the comments of this post. Let’s start the conversation!

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13 thoughts on “Three Essential Leadership Behaviors for Project Managers

  1. You captured most of my top leadership traits – but one of my top ones is to never ask ANYONE to do something you are not willing to do yourself. You lead by example, plain and simple. That is how I lead, anyway.

    • I totally agree, Cheri. I Include also an advice more: NEVER ask permission to do what you are not expressly prohibited to do! In project management, as in life, we must have the courage to make our own decisions, putting them into practice and fully assume the consequences. It is what this is about!

      Thanks again

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