The Open Source Project Management Community

Project Leadership

In a world where projects are becoming larger, more complex and increasingly cross-cultural it is no longer enough to be an effective manager of events, processes, costs and resources. To be a successful project manager you must be as good at leading people as you are at managing tasks and processes. You must be able to build effective relationships at all levels and actively lead the team to success through your vision and engagement. You must have drive, confidence and attitude, and sufficient vision and insight to set a great example for others to follow. That is what I call project leadership!


To improve your project leadership capabilities, focus your efforts on the following three competencies:


Fully Lead and Motivate the Team: In order to build a high performing team you need to relate to each team member at an individual level. You must spend sufficient time understanding what each person’s aspirations and strengths are and effectively use those strengths on the project. When you know what motivates people do their job even better, you can align the individual’s aims and purposes with that of the project and create a truly motivated and highly effective team.


If you want to be a project leader, you must also learn to adapt your leadership style to each individual team member. An employee who is very experienced and motivated needs to be led and managed very differently to someone who is relatively inexperienced and lacks motivation. When people are able to work independently you can delegate entire tasks and must avoid micro-management. On the contrary you should spend much more time explaining and demonstrating how to do things to those who are less experienced, and provide moral support to those who lack drive and motivation.


To get started, place your team members in the matrix below according to their level of competence & skills on the horizontal axis and their level of drive & motivation on the vertical axis. Completing this exercise will make you aware of the diversity of your team members and how you can adapt your leadership style to provide each person with the right amount of direction and support.

Be a Project Champion: The greater clarity you have with regards to the future and project-end-state you wish to create, the easier it will be for you to serve your customer, deliver that end-state and provide focus and direction to the team. When you understand and take ownership of the strategy for achieving a successful project outcome, you are able to inspire and motivate the team and make the day-to-day decisions necessary to reach that future. To become a project champion, you should:


  1. Fully embrace the goals, objectives, and plans of the project.
  2. Visualize what the end state of your project looks like.
  3. See it the way the end users and beneficiaries see it.
  4. Feel it, taste it, and smell it.
  5. Take ownership, not just for delivering project outputs and capabilities, but for the ultimate businessbenefits.
  6. Draw your team into the vision by illustrating how each person fits in and matters to the project’s overall execution.


As a project champion, you are more than a manager of people and resources. You become an inspiration to the team and the embodiment of the project. You become an agent of change who monitors and delivers the ultimate business benefits and makes sure that the customer adopts and implements the necessary business processes to support the change initiative.


Build Effective Relationships with Senior Stakeholders: Many project managers hide behind their desk and prefer to communicate via email as opposed to picking up the phone or meeting stakeholders face to face. They may even avoid stakeholder contact as it’s a potential source of conflict, requests and changes. To become a true project leader, you must spend time with the project’s most powerful decision makers on a regular basis. It’s not enough to diligently send out status reports and conduct steering committee meetings. You have to proactively engage your stakeholders on a one-to-one basis. That means asking about and listening to their concerns and suggestions, taking on board their feedback and understanding their success criteria.


You can do that by first identifying the project’s most powerful and influential stakeholders – i.e. those who have the power to allocate funding and decide on the project’s scope – and subsequently set up short, reoccurring meetings with each of them. Use these focused meetings to better understand your stakeholders’ priorities and to start building strong and trusting relationships. With time these stakeholders will become allies who actively work to support you and your project.


Susanne Madsen is a published author, public speaker, project manager, mentor, and coach with over 15 years of experience in managing and rolling out major change programs. Susanne is a PRINCE2 and MSP practitioner and holds several qualifications in the area of personal performance and corporate and executive coaching.

Her recent book, The Project Management Coaching Workbook – Six Steps to Unleashing Your Potential, is a direct result of Susanne’s project management coaching work over the years.

To find out more about Susanne, please visit her website at www.susannemadsen.com. You can also follow Susanne on Twitter: @SusanneMadsen.

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