The necessary leadership skills for project managers differ from those required in other disciplines, so it is important to cultivate a proficiency in areas that are unique to project management. Most notably, the project manager is responsible for managing the project itself rather than the individual team members who are contributing to its completion. The project manager does not serve as a superior in a supervisory role, so leadership skills for project managers tend to be collaborative rather than authoritative.
One of the key leadership skills for project managers is an ability to create engagement among the key stakeholders throughout each phase of the project. When the project is in the planning stage, the project manager will typically get together with the department heads and/or team members who are going to be involved in the project. This is where that subtle brand of leadership that is so essential to the skill set of a successful project manager is crucial.
During this phase, other equally important skills for project managers come into play. For example, the project manager needs to have strong communication skills to encourage the sharing of ideas and elicit suggestions from team members who may be less vocal. This creates a culture of cooperation that is essential to the cross-departmental dynamic of projects. Depending on the project manager’s proficiency in this area, key stakeholders will either gain a sense of shared ownership through the opportunity to participate in thought leadership, or may come away feeling as though their insights aren’t being heard. The ability to make team members feel valued and appreciated is among the most useful leadership skills for project managers. It provides a solid foundation for the project going forward and sets the tone for a strong collaborative effort. The project manager should try to foster respect and synergy among team members to achieve optimal results.
Once the project is underway, the team members should be able to turn to the project manager for guidance and support, but should not feel as if they are being micromanaged. As long as everyone is staying on task, adhering to deadlines and documenting their progress according to the established processes, the best leadership style and skills for project managers to follow is an “invisible hand” approach that involves listening, showing empathy and providing support. The project team should know the project manager is available to offer assistance as requirements change and the dynamics of the project evolve. But at the same time, the project manager should respect the responsibility and expertise of the stakeholders and avoid asserting himself or herself unnecessarily, as this can harm morale.
This article outlines just a few of the most critical skills for project managers to focus on, including the ability to facilitate engagement, communicate effectively, create synergy and implement a supportive but hands-off management approach. Project management professionals can expand and fine-tune these and other vital skills through online leadership training courses and certificate programs.
Villanova University offers 100% online, video-based training that helps develop leadership skills for project managers. Villanova caters to the needs of project managers through its Certificate in Applied Project Management.