Ten Critical Leadership Principles for Project Managers

Ten Critical Leadership Principles for Project Managers
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Establishing a Vision

One the ten principles needed for successful leadership in a changing world and the foremost of the leadership principles is establishing a clear-cut vision for the future. The project development team prepares the project charter and scope, and prepares the deliverables or milestones. The project manager’s role as the leader of the team is to sell the project scope to the team through creating an effective vision, inducing the team to provide their best towards meeting the project milestones and deliverables. A good leadership vision aligns the work done with business interests, and still has something in it to inspire the team members.

Image Credit: flickr.com/Wouter Kiel

Shared Values

The hallmark of an effective team is shared values grounded in ethics. A good leader promotes ethical behavior through trustworthiness, dependability, honesty, and a facilitative nature, and ensures that such traits permeate across the project team. The project manager, besides inculcating and promoting such values, also needs to identify uncooperative, egotistical, irritable, and demanding behavior from team members and to nip such behavior in the bud. Failure to do so invariably results in a dysfunctional team.


Of the leadership skills for project managers, proactivity, or anticipating and taking charge ranks amongst the most critical.

The execution of a project invariably requires resolving challenges, contingencies, and complexities. A project manager who leads from the front and takes a proactive approach to tackle such issues head-on and establishes his or her power through competence inspires and rallies the project team around him or her.

Such a proactive nature needs reinforcement by promptness and timeliness, which is to never keep things pending and undertaking what needs doing at the appropriate time. Minor delays compound over time to major lags, throwing project deliverables out of control.

Active Involvement

A good leader does not confine himself or herself to saying “go do it!” He or she helps the team members do it. The leader’s technical competency allows team members to defer to the leader to resolve complex technical issues, increasing the respect for the leader. A project manager inculcating a positive attitude to lead from the front needs to reinforce such an attitude with technical competency that allows him or her to be involved in the project operations, and adopt a hands-on approach to intervening and solving problems.

People Based Approach

A successful leader invariably adopts a people-based approach, or placing people first over machinery, and other considerations. The project manager applies this most important leadership principle by applying models such as Belbin team role to identify people characteristics, understand the skills and competencies of team members, and assign work based on team members’ strengths while helping them to develop their weak areas.

Team Learning

One important leadership principle for the project manager is to facilitate team learning. Team learning is team members engaging in true dialogue with their assumptions suspended, and in the process, inculcating ground realities about the area of knowledge discussed with one another. Such shared team learning allows team members to develop their knowledge, contribute to execution of the project in a better way, and facilitate the making of a learning organization that creates new opportunities for the team members and makes execution of future projects easy.

Participative Approach

Is it More Critical for a Project Manager to Have Leadership Skills or Management Skills

A participative approach counts among the major leadership principles that contribute towards the success of a project.

Participative leadership is one of the most popular leadership styles in project management and involves the leader allowing or encouraging team members to share inputs or participate in the decision-making process. The project manager needs to balance his or her active involvement with a participative approach that allows team members a say in decision-making, and freedom and autonomy to do their job. Team members value the leader’s intervention to provide them with critical job related inputs and insights, and at the same time remain motivated when the team leader allows them ownership of the work through involving them in decision making and structuring of the work.

Image Credit: flickr.com/Adam Baker

Inspired Delegation

Delegation ranks amongst the most important leadership skills for project managers.

The successful implementation of a project requires team members doing exactly what they are required to do, working under tight deadlines, and close coordination and synchronization. The project manager needs good communication skills to make team members understand the importance of such requirements, inspire them with the rewards of achievement, and create awareness of the implications of non-compliance. Such an inspired delegation to complete project tasks is another important leadership principle that every project manager needs to master.

Establishing Accountability

Establishing accountability is another important leadership principle that a project manager establishes for his team. A leader needs to motivate, inspire, facilitate, and lead from the front, but at the same time also needs to crack the whip when the situation so arises. A good leader provides team members with the resources required for the work, the freedom to do the work, and all conditions necessary to excel, leaving no excuse for non-performance. The leader then makes the team member responsible and accountable for the work.

A good leader matches the rewards for success or performance with punishment for incompetence or ineffectiveness.


The most underestimated of leadership principles is simplicity.

The acronym KISS can stand for “Keep it simple, stupid”,” Keep it short and simple,” or “Keep it simple and straightforward.” Most people underestimate the power of simplicity. The project manager’s role should be to keep the job as simple and straightforward as possible, without getting into unnecessary complexities. This includes simplifying the work design as much as possible, using simple words to communicate with the project team, establishing a direct reward and punishment continuum for performance and non-performance, and all other aspects related to the project.

Adopting the above ten principles of successful leadership allows the project manager to become an effective leader.