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Honing Your Leadership Skills for Project Management
By Michelle Symonds

If you’re an appointed leader it’s a full-time job – not one which you can opt out of when the going gets tough. Team workers and bosses look to you for support and results and, having mentioned the difficult times, it’s a fact that great leadership not only emerges but comes into its own within the individual when the pressure’s on.

Hard work and the challenges that come with it sorts out the men from the boys – the very able project managers from those who are weak in leadership terms or those who are, well, merely competent.

Some Golden Rules

There are three golden rules for honing leadership skills in project managers – skills which can be practiced and applied daily. They are:

  • Be a Good Listener. As every great communicator will tell you, listening to what people tell you is probably more important than anything you have to say. Trouble is, we can all be a lot better at it than we are at any given time in our lives by turning off the habit of being too quick to judge without all the information to hand. By paying attention to what we are hearing and taking it all in.
  • Making Good Decisions. The crunch time when a decision has to be made is a great opportunity for a project manager to display and exercise his excellent leadership abilities. But ask yourself – will you make the decision on your own and, if so, how will you put it across? Will you need to involve other members of the team in the decision-making process and, if so, to what extent? However, at the end of the day, you will be responsible for the decision reached as the leader.

  • Don’t fail to see the wood for the trees. Take time out to step away from the project for an hour or so, at least once a week. While you’re taking a break, just have a good think about the way things are going in general and where the work done so far is leading. Don’t get bogged down in the detail – view the thing as a whole. In your absence it will also give others a chance to view things and perhaps develop their own ideas. With your head clear you can return and be ready to face the next stage and any challengers this may throw up.

Remember, there will always be more followers than leaders in this world. Rather like sheep, most people like to be led and, with no proper leadership in place, they will often just latch on to the first person to assume that role, genius or idiot. They just don’t want, can’t, or are in fear of, having to make their own decisions.

There is much a project manager needs to keep in balance and sometimes it may seem like you have little time to lead, but this you must make the time to do. In conclusion, there are really four essentials of project management leadership. They are: to focus on individuals and know their strengths and weaknesses, build and share a clear plan, create a team spirit by motivating the project team, and be an excellent communicator. Invest time in getting these four essentials right and everything else will follow!

Michelle Symonds is a qualified PRINCE2 Project Manager and believes that the right project management training can transform a good project manager into a great project manager and is essential for a successful outcome to any project.

There is a wide range of formal and informal training courses now available that include online learning and podcasts as well as more traditional classroom courses from organizations such as Parallel Project Training.

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