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Six Characteristics of a Great Project Leader

team workshop on great project manager skills

Are great leaders born or made? Does leadership success hinge on soft skills like good communication, empathy, and charisma? There are probably as many opinions on leadership styles as there are fish in the sea. No one is really right or wrong, and many become great leaders through different experiences they pursued, were dealt, or stumbled into. Certainly, a great leader has some foundational experience and wisdom, is benefited from some innate qualities that enable the engagement of others, and many are advantaged by being in the right place at the right time. To effectively lead a project to completion, I think we agree that many soft skills are needed to manage a project team and timelines successfully. Let’s explore a few of them…

1. Excellent communicator 

Being an effective communicator is Job One for the Project Manager. Really it’s critical for everyone on the project team, but it is an essential skill for the project leader. Leading projects means you must bring together a disparate group of people and get them rowing in the same direction for a successful project outcome. Without leadership helping these teams to connect the dots with open and effective communication skills, projects will often be delivered late, budgets will be busted, or the quality of deliverables will suffer. Project leaders need to bring the team together to work as one, and the best way to do that is with clear guidance, asking the right questions when problems arise, and solving issues quickly to unblock the team.

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2. Emotionally intelligent

Many people mistake a strong will and abundance of confidence as essential skills for project leaders. But, overconfidence can be a major detriment to the team, leading to poor decisions and loss of team trust. Overconfidence often translates to being too stubborn to listen to others’ opinions or to reach out when you have questions or need assistance. So let’s replace this concept with an emotionally intelligent leader. Emotionally intelligent leaders understand their limitations and use their team’s skill sets to their full advantage. These leaders ask questions even if it reveals they don’t know something, and they tend to listen more than speak. Remember that your team wants to do good work, so use your emotional intelligence to enable them to be their best selves at work. 

3. Balanced and realistic 

One mistake many project leaders make is sacrificing their team’s work/life balance for the sake of project deadlines. The stress of having too much work to do, constant overtime, and looming deadlines can create a negative work environment and result in burnout for project team members. If project leaders don’t protect their team from unrealistic demands, it will be hard to build trust and team synergy to get amazing work done together.

If this is a problem you’re facing, try a project management solution like LiquidPlanner. The software is built to create a balanced workload for your team, so you never have to worry about overcommitting to deadlines or overscheduling your team. LiquidPlanner is a great tool to run simulations to see if your team actually can take on that next project. Plus, automatic resource leveling shows when one team member is a bottleneck so you can reallocate team members and resources appropriately.

block figures and arrows representing directional flow

4. Good delegator

The project leader has many responsibilities – and none of them are to “go it alone.” Certainly, there may be times when the project leader must make tough decisions without anyone’s help. But these should be rare circumstances. A great project leader is actively involved in identifying what responsibilities to delegate and how to effectively hand off responsibility for the work. Delegating important work represents an excellent opportunity to train a high performer to develop skills, capability, and confidence. Developing team members to become the next project leader is a key skill for leadership. 

Do bear in mind the natural temptation to overbook your most talented team members. Tracking project resources with the right project management software let the project leader know what team resources are available to delegate tasks to and who is already loaded with work. The right project management tool can make a world of difference and make good project managers great.

5. Organized thinker 

Project leaders must be able to take lots of information available to them and maneuver around various roadblocks or competing priorities. Likewise, they must be able to make strategic decisions with conflicting or minimal insights. A great project leader needs to be ready and able to step up to the plate to organize their data into an effective strategy, from project initiation to project close. 

Newtworking happy hour at symposium with team members

6. Networking skills 

Project leaders need to be well-trusted and well-connected in the organization to identify the best people for the job and accomplish their project priorities. Leaders need to facilitate immediate team and stakeholder alignment, then solicit and steer cross-functional teams to provide assistance to produce the best possible products and services when needed. So many of the skills and resources needed for the project will be available outside their direct working team. Having strong relationships with leaders and knowledge experts across the organization can open up doors at the right time. Great networking skills also come into play to address roadblocks and problems as they arise. Knowing when and who to reach out to for help and information is key to project success in the project management world.

Great project leaders aren’t simply born with all the “je ne sais quoi” they need to inspire quality work and overcome obstacles. They may be born with some skills to get them off to a great start, but many traits need to be developed over time. Books like The Power of Project Leadership1 by Susanne Madsen and Dare to Lead2 by Brene Brown and being intentional in your relationships can help you take your raw talent and sharpen your areas for opportunity. Plus, Project Management Software like LiquidPlanner helps to make everyone’s jobs a little easier by ensuring a balanced workload and developing the next project leader. These tips in combination can help elevate you from a good leader to an exceptional one.  

Readers – what do you think makes a great project leader? Do you consider yourself a great project leader, and what makes you that way? Who are some examples of great project leaders? Let’s share and discuss.

About the Author

Brad EgelandBrad Egeland is a Business Solution Designer and IT/PM consultant and author with over 25 years of software development, management, and project management experience. He has been named the “#1 Provider of Project Management Content in the World” with over 7,000 published articles, ebooks, white papers and videos. Brad is married, a father of 11, and living in sunny Las Vegas, NV.

Footnotes

1 https://www.susannemadsen.co.uk/books.html
2 https://brenebrown.com/hubs/dare-to-lead/

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