Finding Your Project Leadership Style

Finding Your Project Leadership Style

Insights | 09 January 2018

We’ve all encountered them: Leaders with all the right technical skills and abilities, yet an inability to move any meaningful agenda forward.

It’s never enough to be a strong individual contributor. Truly effective leaders think beyond today or tomorrow’s deliverables. They build relationships and move strategic mountains.

How can you become a high-impact leader? We’ve gleaned suggestions from our own in-house experts and some of the best management thinkers around.

1. Be Open

Just as globalisation and technological advances have transformed the way we do business, so have our definitions of effective leadership changed.

In describing transformational leaders Ken Sheargold, CEO at PM-Partners group, states strong effective leaders need to “communicate, and over-communicate by about five times” (read the full article).

Today, we also have books like the popular “Good to Great” whereby author Jim Collins identifies the highest form of leader as someone who has both humility and resolve.

All are a far cry from the ‘command-and-control’ management style of yesteryear.

2. Put Learning First

Successful leaders understand learning can never stop. In a large study[1] into how project managers cope with “frequent unexpected events,” researchers found top project leaders were given a great deal of latitude. They blended traditional and Agile project management approaches for maximum success.

Look for opportunities in your own organisation where you can put a learning agenda front and centre.

3. Consider ‘Radical Candor’

In her book “Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity,”[2] Kim Scott, a former Googler who is now an author and executive coach, offers a new paradigm for giving and receiving feedback. While mostly centring on the boss-direct report relationship, her approach has multiple applications for project and programme management interactions. Radical candor, in a nutshell, is about caring about people personally and communicating directly, Scott writes. This does away with manipulation, passive aggressiveness or just plain aggression (hello, corporate politics) and misplaced/toxic “empathy” (such as holding back helpful feedback so as not to hurt feelings).

4. Avoid the Manager Trap

A key pitfall for all leaders is the belief that leadership and management are essentially the same thing. In fact, they couldn’t be more different.

Effective leaders understand their job is more than simply process improvement or deliverables. It’s about inspiring and influencing not just those in your immediate line of sight, but wider teams and departments with whom your work intersects. Everything you do is like a stone plunked into water — even the smallest impact radiates outward.

5. Be Open to Change

“What Got You Here Won’t Get You There” by Marshall Goldsmith is another popular management book and a phrase that is particularly apt for project managers becoming leaders for the first time.

Successful project managers often rise through the ranks by showing a keen ability to deliver on time, within scope and under budget. But becoming a true leader demands much more.

So how can you go from being extraordinarily detail oriented to innovative and creative? From managing risk to introducing calculated risk in pursuit of business opportunity? Consider that all the skills that got you to this place might not be the exact same ones you’ll need going forward.

Last Thoughts

There’s no shortage of books or advice on leadership and much of it is pretty insightful and useful. Take some time to read and learn if you can. Above all, if leadership is something new to you – or something you’re eager to get better at – focus on finding your authentic leadership voice. Stay true to yourself, be human to everyone around you and know that true leadership is serving those around you, not climbing to the top alone.


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