Seven qualities of leadership in project management

Project managers are at the center of it all. The job’s essential responsibilities dictate this, as PMs are tasked with managing progress, processes, reports and risk along every stage of the initiative. Theirs is a position of power; project managers not only need to be competent in the arts and sciences of the profession, but should also be leaders who provide guidance, influence and examples to their team.

The importance of leadership is well-known; what’s less apparent is how to actually be a good leader. Talent and different office dynamics can be notoriously difficult to track, respond to and manage. Combine this need for leadership with the practical duties of the project manager and the position’s difficulties are clear to see.

Not everyone is born a leader, but many do possess the qualities that make one. The key is in knowing how to apply these traits in relationships, both working and personal. Here are six qualities of leadership in project management:

Effective communication

: Knowing how to engage reports, stakeholders and others is among the most important leadership skills in project management. It’s not just knowing what to say, but also how and where. Increasingly, chat functions and emails have become an exclusive medium for talking. While that may work for virtual teams, good leaders know when to stop by a desk or speak to the team, either to answer questions or for motivation. Being transparent and available makes communicating easier, and thus facilitates better cohesion and collaboration on the project.

Strategic delegation

: Good leadership can be exercised in a project manager’s level of strategic delegation. Being at the center of everything dictates more marshaling than  micromanaging. Being a high-level operator means knowing when to redirect duties that you don’t have either the time or the specialization for. But this practice requires discipline; passing off critical decisions can be dire, and does not indicate effective delegation, but bad leadership. Returning precious time back to the project manager is a value that can be unlocked, however, with informed delegating.

Calmness under pressure

: It takes a certain temperament to be a project manager. The ability to withstand challenges and tackle obstacles with aplomb is a desired trait in project managers, not only for the results that are delivered under pressure but also for the example it sets for all involved. Everyone working on a project will encounter frustrations or difficulties, and will lean on project managers to provide assurance and advice in the midst of whirlwinds. Keeping a level head reflects well on a project manager’s capacity to be an effective leader.

Forward thinker

: Many leaders naturally rise to the task, and that’s because they are always looking ahead, planning for change, and even seeking to initiate that change for the company’s good. For a company, that looks like a project manager who’s comfortable leading a charge into unknown territory. Employees take their cues from leaders. In order to launch completely new product lines, make gains in new markets or change a fundamental internal process, they need a leader that makes it all seem possible. Being an inspiring and influential presence is part and parcel to effective leadership in a project management role.


On the other side of that more visionary ideal is the hard reality of pursuing accountability when something goes wrong. Project managers must hold employees to expectations, but also check their own authority and hold themselves to the same standards. Sometimes this may call for running a tighter ship, like when deadlines loom, and other times it means trusting employees on their own. In any case, a willingness to shoulder the load or get others to achieve their potential builds credibility and trust, crucial tools to the leader.

Team builder:

Collaboration between different teams and different departments is required on any project, and good leaders can cultivate productive relationships between disparate teams and employees. It’s not all about ice-breakers and get-to-know-you breakfasts; a project manager needs to know how to measure the variables in teams, evaluate the strengths and weaknesses in employees, and ensure partnerships are forged that ultimately benefit the efficiency and effectiveness of project work.

Talent manager

: A primary way of promoting that quality team-building is knowing the people themselves. Every employee has their own way of doing things and working with others. Knowing the personas that populate a project helps leaders engage on a personal level that people crave, as well as honestly assess the level of talent and skill they have on hand. Project managers are not simply match-makers; they are leaders that understand the currents of their teams and know how to tame them for company and project benefit.

It’s easier to know what’s required of a leader than it is to apply those principles in the real work world. However, with training, education and practice, many of those project managers can become successful and effective leaders. Students looking to take on more learning can inquire about Brandeis University’s Master of Science in Project and Program Management by contacting admissions today.


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