project leadership styles

6 Leadership Styles and Project Management

October 23, 2017 by

So what exactly is the role of the project leader and how can we link leadership to performance?

Project leadership is about leading the project in the context of the wider business and organizational strategy.

It is creating the culture and working environment within the project that contributes to its success and performance. It is about decision making, judgment calls, and motivating the team with consistent communication. All these areas indicate how the project leader’s behavior can influence success.


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There are, of course, a variety of different styles in leadership, for different contexts and approaches. This article will address these styles and how they can be applied in project dynamics.


6 Project Leadership Styles

Daniel Goleman’s Leadership That Gets Results, a landmark 2000 Harvard Business Review study is an authoritative source on leadership styles. Goleman and his team completed a three-year study with over 3,000 middle-level managers. Their goal was to uncover specific leadership behaviors and determine their effect on performance.

Here are the six leadership styles Goleman identified among the managers he studied, as well as a brief analysis of the effects of each style.


1. The pacesetting leader

This leader expects and models excellence and self-direction.

If this style were summed up in one phrase, it would be “Do as I do, now.”

The pacesetting style works best when the team is already motivated and skilled, and the leader needs quick results.

Used extensively, however, this style can overwhelm team members and squelch innovation.


2. The authoritative leader

This leader mobilizes the team toward a common vision and focuses on end goals, leaving the means up to each individual.

If this style were summed up in one phrase, it would be “Come with me.”

The authoritative style works best when the team needs a new vision because circumstances have changed, or when explicit guidance is not required.

Authoritative leaders inspire an entrepreneurial spirit and vibrant enthusiasm for the mission.

It is not the best fit when the leader is working with a team of experts who know more than him or her.


3. The affiliative leader

This leader works to create emotional bonds that bring a feeling of bonding and belonging to the organization.

If this style were summed up in one phrase, it would be “People come first.”

The affiliative style works best in times of stress, when teammates need to heal from a trauma, or when the team needs to rebuild trust.

This style should not be used exclusively because a sole reliance on praise and nurturing can foster mediocre performance and a lack of direction.


4. The coaching leader

This leader develops people for the future.

If this style were summed up in one phrase, it would be “Try this.”

The coaching style works best when the leader wants to help teammates build lasting personal strengths that make them more successful overall.

It is least effective when teammates are defiant and unwilling to change or learn, or if the leader lacks proficiency.


5. The coercive leader

This leader demands immediate compliance.

If this style were summed up in one phrase, it would be “Do what I tell you.”

The coercive style is most effective in times of crisis, such as in a company turnaround or a takeover attempt, or during an actual emergency like a tornado or a fire.

This style can also help control a problem teammate when everything else has failed.

However, it should be avoided in almost every other case because it can alienate people, and stifle flexibility and inventiveness.


6. The democratic leader

This leader builds consensus through participation.

If this style were summed up in one phrase, it would be “What do you think?”

The democratic style is most effective when the leader needs the team to buy into or have ownership of a decision, plan, or goal, or if he or she is uncertain and needs fresh ideas from qualified teammates.


To be a successful project leader though, you cannot be rigid and restricted to just one style. If you incorporate some authoritative leadership, democratic, coaching, and affiliative leadership, and a dash of pacesetting and coercive leadership and you lead in a way that elevates and inspires your team, you’ve got a balanced combination that enables long-term leadership success with every project team.


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Darragh Broderick

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