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5 Key Leadership Skills Any Project Manager Should Have

written by: Sylvia Cochran • edited by: Michele McDonough • updated: 6/21/2011

Essential leadership skills for project success highlight the integral role of the manager. Much like the hub of a wheel, an improperly trained or ill at ease lead can set up the entire team for failure. Which project management skills are most important?

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    Introducing the Project Manager

    Image: Project Control by Alphamu57 under GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 This professional acts as the liaison between the corporate offices and the team members. Consider the team lead a conduit through which the corporate vision flows and becomes itemized and broken down into bits and pieces of data. Leadership styles, communication abilities, clarity of vision, a firm grasp of personal strengths and weaknesses and a willingness to function continuously as the project’s hub are critical. Leadership training and development classes frequently touch on these aspects; what do they mean in real life?

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    1. Leadership Styles

    There are different types of leadership. Mind Tools recognizes (among others):

    • High-handed leaders
    • Peer leaders
    • Hands-off management
    • By the book approaches

    The ability to switch between leadership styles is a must for the effective lead. The makeup of the team thrives on the project manager’s ability to adapt to common traits and make the most of cultural and skill diversity. It is not possible to approach each project and every team with the same leadership style. For managers who are new to the profession, this is a major challenge.

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    2. Communication Abilities

    Superior project management skills demand that the leader is comfortable with a variety of communication devices. A technophobe will not do well in this position. For the professional who is new to this type of position, consider the many ways that team members are currently passing information back and forth.

    There are social media platforms, smart phones, iPhone apps for project management, video conferencing, texting and company Intranets. As the project lead, you have to be comfortable with each of these applications and know how to effectively communicate within them. In some cases this means setting up groups within these platforms and ensuring that every team member is plugged in.

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    3. Clarity or Focus

    One of the key leadership skills is clarity. Do you fully understand what the project seeks to accomplish? Are you aware of changes to the procedures or tweaks to the expected outcomes? Moreover, are you able to clearly communicate your vision?

    This type of focus is the structural framework of the project. It dictates who will be entrusted with various aspects, and who reports to whom. Clarity spells out the mission and helps draft the outline of the entire project. Focus also helps to set a loose timeline that allows for benchmarks as well as individual goal setting and results tracking.

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    4. Integrity

    Having a firm grasp of personal strengths and weaknesses is a personal development skill. It might take some cultivating. This level of integrity prevents the project manager from taking on more than is realistic to accomplish. Going further, it sets up the team for success, not for a potential failure. A project manager with flawed or missing integrity will agree to any and all corporate stipulations, even if the team lacks the infrastructure to meet the demands.

    Autocratic leadership styles frequently attempt to make up for missing team components. For example, the project manager will demand overtime, require team members to rely on personal assets to provide communication platforms and rule by fear in an attempt to squeeze maximum productivity out of the team. Even though this approach nets results, it does not promote loyalty or a willingness to undertake more projects with the team lead.

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    5. Motivation

    Being willing to act as project hub is an attitude that comes from an equal mix of leading by example and being motivated by the overall success of the team. Project managers are hands-on professionals who have the skills to take over for a team member -- and who do not shy away from doing so. Their skills create trust in the team members and their willingness to work as hard as -- if not harder than -- others fosters loyalty. Trust and loyalty are essential components of motivation.

    Project managers inspire employees to share the corporate vision and give it their all to see them realized.

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    A Word on Virtual Team Work

    There used to be a time when all team members would meet periodically in a conference room and discuss the project at hand. Times have changed, and it is not uncommon for team members to be spread among different offices, cities and even countries. While there is some travel that the team leader might undertake, a lot of the interaction is virtual to maintain the different phases of project management.

    The University of Missouri-St. Louis defines this approach as a “Geographically Dispersed Team," which comes with its own set of challenges. Virtual interactivity is a must, but time change challenges as well as cultural diversity can become stumbling blocks. It is up to the project manager to note these potential problems and choose team members based on the likely success of the group, not necessarily based on seniority or membership in prior team efforts.

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    There are no shortcuts to these five essential leadership skills for project success. Sure, it is possible to gloss over a weakness in any one of them for a brief period of time, but long term projects in particular quickly expose the flaws of a team leader. Businesses who thrive on the project approach know to pick their leaders wisely and develop candidates for team leadership through classes, training and refresher courses as well as cross-training.

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    Sources

    • Mind Tools, http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newLDR_84.htm#transformational
    • University of Missouri-St. Louis, http://www.umsl.edu/~sauterv/analysis/488_f01_papers/rolfes.htm
    • Image: Project Control by Alphamu57 under GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2

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