Leadership skills are to a project manager as claws are to a lion: yeah, you could maybe survive in the jungle without them for some time, but you will be severely disadvantaged, and catch less antelope or water buffalo, living a miserable existence with your ribs sticking out.
If you are reading this article, you are probably either an inexperienced, brand new project manager who was promoted from lower-level staff, or a PM that has been struggling with operations. Don’t worry, we will go over the four leadership skills you need in order to succeed in your role.
We’ve all been there, where you might have staff that seem not to care about your project, or are not heeding your directions, no matter how many times you tell them. We’ve all heard someone sarcastically mutter the phrase “you’re the boss” after you correct them, and they happen to disagree with your approach. But, you know what?
They are right. You are the boss.
Tag along in this post and we’ll make sure that you have the skills in place to be a top-notch project manager, one that your team is responsive towards and eager to work for.
As seen above, in case you had any doubts, it is no longer a secret that project management leads to a high-performing organization. So, what project management skills do you need to possess as a PM?
1. Excellent interpersonal communication skills
The first skill we need to discuss, which takes precedence above all else (you could hypothetically get away with ignoring most of the following skills if you just master this one), is an adept skill in interpersonal communication with your team.
All PM experts agree that without being skilled in interpersonal communications your project is likely doomed. As a project manager, a whopping 90% of your job is communicating with your team. Think about that: 90%.
Leaders must lead their teams. Communication is necessary for teams to foster creativity, solve problems, and have an overall transparent and open approach to sharing ideas. So, if you combine those two notions, then it is a vital responsibility for managers to demonstrate the effectiveness of interpersonal communication.
Your team isn’t just going to do it on their own. Managers lead by example, through demonstrating that certain practices bring tangible, beneficial results for all parties involved, at all levels in a project.
So, we have established that leadership needs to come from the top down, but how do you go about communicating how to effectively communicate to your team?
Easy. The first step is to be open and direct in your communications, and be consistent at every level. Each person is unique, but each member of the team, whether your CEO or a fresh hire, deserves the same level of respect in your choice of language and attentiveness.
Interpersonal communication skills need to be thoughtfully and consistently executed in every mode of project communication, such as:
1. Verbal communication
3. Phone calls
4. PM software platforms
When your team notices your impeccable methods for communicating with each member, including upper-level management, they will follow suit, and not be afraid to ask questions when they run into a problem or are confused. This is turn will save you highly valued time on avoiding mistakes that would otherwise happen if they hadn’t asked “Hey, how do I do XYZ?”
When your project team is effectively interpersonally communicating, everyone shares in the collective success of the project, will complete tasks faster, and your executives will take notice and buy you a bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue for doing a great job. Well, maybe, but in any case the project runs smoothly when staff follow their leader in mimicking their communication methods.
Interpersonal communication is not just limited to the words you use, but also how you say them. It also encompasses body language, choice of presentations, frequency of communication, and praise (too often undervalued) when a underling does a good job.
This will hardly be the first or last blog post touching on tips for project managers and enhanced leadership, but in every article you read, communication is going to be at the top of the list for leadership skills.
2. Project enthusiasm & generating a positive attitude
In the same way that project communication comes from the top-down, so does project enthusiasm. Enthusiasm is key to engaging team members, who will in turn be more caring for the work that they do.
Even in the face of catastrophe (rather, especially in the case of catastrophe) it is vital for the ship to be steered by a manager that not only knows how to communicate the importance of the work, but is excited to accomplish the goals and objectives of the assigned project.
Think of it this way: do you want a manager that simply tells you what to do, or is invested in the work and excited to tell you how great it is to be doing it, that it is important and not simply necessary for a paycheck?
Now, the manager should not be sappy, and trying to convey false enthusiasm. People can smell BS from a mile away. However, enthusiasm and a positive attitude should reflect that when in the face of trouble, one is confident that a solution will be found, and the project conclusion will be a success.
Just as communication skills can be transferred through organizational osmosis, so are enthusiasm and a positive work attitude.
3. Team building & savvy task assignment
The sharpest project manager will have knowledge and intuition to build dynamic, highly productive teams for tasks. Think of the cliche TEAM acronym in the business world (cliches are rooted in truth, by the way):
Together Everyone Achieves More
An effective project manager will understand the following: building a team of talented individuals is not a solution in and of itself, but requires maintenance and supervision. There are any number of ways that you can build a great talent team, but things may still go awry. Let’s take, for example, the issue of internal disputes.
You have beared witness to internal company disputes where you worked in the past, and you will bear witness to them again in the future.
When building the team, consider the balance you need for great work to be accomplished, utilizing the skills of your staff, but also consider whether or not there will be conflicts amongst your selected skill-champions. Keep an eye out and your ear to the ground whether there will be internal disputes if certain team members need to work together. Perhaps your best programmer shouldn’t be working with your best graphic designer on a project because for whatever reason, they simply do not get along.
Hopefully this is not the case, and ideally you should always be utilizing your best and brightest, but it happens. Think of whether there are other tasks that are helpful to the company that a talented member can perform.
Also, let’s go back to the importance of enthusiasm. Say there is a squabble going on between two leads. If they are arguing it will halt productivity. Yet, if there is a junior specialist who may need a bit more experience to become an expert, employing them in this role in an enthusiastic manner will lead to them being a valuable team member. They will be eager to learn the skills they need to become an expert, and eager to be a valued member of the team in the eyes of their peers.
That being said, a talented project manager will only assign tasks to capable team members. A balance needs to be maintained between the assembly of highly skilled workers and workers that can get along and feed off of each other’s enthusiasm and drive.
Given what you have to work with, it may or may not be more project-beneficial to group a couple members together that will have disputes, but are such experts in their fields that the work will still get done ahead of deadline. However, if the manager has decent enough leadership skills (read, the first two skills we mentioned), the disputing team members will understand that squabbles hurt every aspect of the project, and set them aside to share in the project’s success.
Internal disputes are just one example of what a capable leader needs to deal with. There are others, such as individual talents or deficiencies, but a talented manager will know how to build a team that gets the job done, well, and on time.
4. Time management leadership through rapid response times
Time management is heavily tied in with interpersonal communication. As a leader, you are leading by example. Once your team observes how you effectively manage time as a project manager, they will follow your management style to the ends of the earth.
The word “leader” carries a lot of weight to it, and it might be more comfortable at a cocktail party to tell a new acquaintance that you are a “manager” rather than a “leader.” Yet, admit that the words are nearly synonymous. As a leader you need to demonstrate to your staff that you are not only able to manage them, but manage yourself.
This is where time management comes into play for project managers
The key component to time management is simply a rapid response to team communications, such as emails, phone calls, etc. If you are using a PM software system, it will be easier to receive notifications of project communicaes, but even if you are using an old-fashioned system such as email for project communication, the faster that you respond to an inquiry, the sooner the team member will get the information they need to move forward, but not only that…
The sooner that a team member receives an answer to a question, the sooner they will be willing to ask questions.
Your project’s team may be experts in their particular fields, but some may feel reticent to ask for help either out of embarrassment or stubbornness to get the job done on their lonesome. This slows everything down concerning your project management.
If your team notices that you respond to inquiries in an expedient fashion, they will feel that the same is expected of them for inquiring. This saves valuable project time, and thus money.
There are further methods to enhance your time management, such as using a color-coded Google calendar or other such similar digital calendering method, or simply by labeling emails so you don’t forget the importance of an issue.
That being said, to lead your team to time management success, demonstrating a practice of rapidly responding to inquiries, suggestions, or any type of communication within your team, will lead to an understanding that it is best to communicate rapidly. Especially if you are using PM software, where everyone is on the same page with project progress, if team members are witness to your rapid addressing of issues, they will follow suit.
Ready to lead?
Hopefully, these four skill-hints have given you insight in how to boost and solidify your leadership skills and abilities as a project manager. Whether you think so or not (or like it or not, and we really hope you like it) you are a leader, and with power comes responsibility. Use these four skills to bolster your ability to lead your team, so that each tier of your project team is sharing in the success of an efficient, smoothly operating project. See you next time.
About the Author
Pavel is a doctor who happens to have an MBA degree and a strong passion for writing. "I am a do-it-all kind of person: When I am not writing, I am busy curing people, when I am not curing people, I tend to kill WCG competitions. Life is fun, and full of wonders: Do what you enjoy most, even if it’s everything at once."More Content by Pavel Aramyan