6 Project Management Leadership Styles

Peter Doyle
By | Updated September 21, 2023 | 10 min read
Leadership Style

What is Project Management Leadership? 

The landscape of project management is continually evolving, driven by innovations in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and automation, as well as remote work technologies. Understanding different leadership styles in project management is crucial in this dynamic environment.

As we adapt to new ways of working – like using remote setups or cutting-edge project management tools – the management styles once considered adequate are now being reevaluated.

This article delves into the six enduring leadership styles in project management while offering insights into how modern trends like AI influence how project leaders and PMOs operate.


Free download: Read more about Leadership Styles in our Project Management Handbook


I recently searched Amazon.com for books using the keyword “leadership,” and it returned 110,897 titles. You find many so-called “motivational posters” on leadership where it’s often depicted as a lighthouse shining brightly in the middle of a storm guiding ships to safety. However, one of my preferred definitions is from Goffee and Jones (2012):


 “Project leadership is about creating the culture and working environment within the project that contributes to its success and performance. It is about the decision-making process, judgment calls, and motivating the team with consistent communication..


The Role of PMI Leadership Styles

Daniel Goleman (2000, p.78) wrote an excellent article listing the different PMI leadership styles and compared them with the analogy of a set of golf clubs. As a golfer would select the correct club for the appropriate shot, a competent leader would apply a particular leadership style in project management in a specific scenario.

Goleman summarized that leaders who used styles that positively affected the climate had better results than those who did not.

Tannenbaum & Schmidt (1973, p.9) also referred to successful leaders knowing the importance of being insightful and flexible by accurately assessing “the most appropriate behavior at any given time and being able to behave accordingly.”

The table below summarizes the six styles and their attributes.

Leadership styles applied to project management


6 Project Management Leadership Styles

As a project manager, I have experienced other project managers’ leadership styles depending on the situation. As Goleman stated, applying the correct management and leadership styles in the appropriate case is vital.

1. Coercive Leadership

While still rare, coercive leadership is seeing a resurgence in crisis management scenarios, particularly in fast-paced industries where quick decision-making is crucial. If this style were summed up in one phrase, it would be “Do what I tell you.”

While this style can be highly effective for quick decision-making, its overuse can stifle creativity and lower team morale. Think of a ship captain in a storm – there’s no room for debate. Daniel Goleman advises using this style sparingly, as it can have a dampening effect on team spirit.


2. Authoritative Leadership

Authoritative and charismatic leadership styles inspire teams, leveraging data analytics to guide their teams toward a unified vision.

Goleman (2000, p.83) stated that “the authoritative leader is a visionary and motivates people by making clear to them how their work fits into this vision,” which would be valid for any project.

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

Arguably, more application of this style would deliver better results from project teams without causing adverse effects as this style generally positively impacts the organization.

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


3. Affiliative Leadership

Affiliative leadership is a ubiquitous management style used by project managers and positively impacts the project team.

Affiliative and servant leadership styles build strong relationships and prioritize digital communication tools to maintain team cohesion. increasingly use digital communication tools to maintain team cohesion, especially in remote work settings. The affiliative style works best when teammates need to heal from a trauma or when the team needs to rebuild trust.

This style should be used sparingly because relying solely on praise and nurturing can foster mediocre performance and a lack of direction.

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


4. Democratic Leadership

Democratic and participative leadership styles now employ real-time collaboration platforms to facilitate more inclusive decision-making processes. An example of this is where each team member in a Project Management Office (PMO) contributes towards defining and measuring the objectives of the PMO.

The democratic style is most effective when the leader needs the team to buy into or own a decision, plan, or goal or if they are uncertain and need fresh ideas from qualified teammates.

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


5. Pacesetting Leadership

Pacesetting leaders are integrating AI-driven analytics to set achievable yet challenging team benchmarks.

The pacesetting style works best depending on the team’s level of motivation and skill. It’s also dependent on a leader that needs quick results.

This style is typical, especially when a project is coming up to critical milestones. Although this style generally harms the project team, there are merits and contexts to when it could be applied with positive results. Kotter (2008, p.7) backs this up by stating that “creating urgency is a real asset in any organization facing a crisis.”

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


6. Coaching Leadership

Coaching leaders increasingly utilize personalized learning platforms to help team members develop specific skills. They also encourage team members to build their capacity and capability as project contributors, positively impacting the project team.

The coaching leadership style works best when the leader wants to help teammates build lasting personal strengths that make them more successful overall. It is only effective when teammates are defiant and unwilling to change or learn or the leader needs more proficiency.

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


Adapting Leadership Styles to Modern Project Management Trends

In the ever-evolving landscape of project management, adopting transformational leadership is not just an option but a necessity. As project managers, we must adapt and grow with the changes that come our way.

Whether it’s the rapid advancements in technology or the shifting dynamics of remote work, these factors are not just trends – they are shaping how we manage projects and lead teams.

The following sections delve into the most pressing trends in project management today and how they influence leadership styles. These trends are not to be ignored, from the integration of Artificial Intelligence and automation to the increasing importance of emotional intelligence.

Transformational leaders see these challenges as opportunities, requiring a nuanced approach to leadership that transcends traditional methods, as highlighted in a study on transformational leadership.

Let’s explore how you can adapt your leadership style to these modern project management trends and continue to lead your teams to success.

  • The Impact of AI and Automation on Leadership Styles

According to this master’s thesis (PDF-only access), Artificial intelligence (AI) and automation revolutionize how project managers lead their teams. AI can assist in decision-making, risk assessment, and interpersonal communication, allowing for a more data-driven leadership approach.

  • The Role of Advanced Resource and Project Management Software

Modern project management software is not just a tool for coordination – it’s becoming an extension of the project manager’s leadership style. Features like real-time collaboration, advanced analytics, and resource allocation algorithms enable project managers to lead more effectively, as noted in a ResearchGate study.

  • Leadership in the Age of Remote Work

The rise in remote work has necessitated a shift in leadership styles. As supported by NCBI research, project managers must be proficient in leading virtual teams, focusing on outcomes rather than processes, and utilizing digital communication tools effectively.

  • Hybrid Project Management Approaches

The days of adhering strictly to Waterfall or Agile methodologies are over. Today’s project managers are adopting hybrid approaches that combine the best elements of traditional and agile methods, allowing for more flexibility and responsiveness, as highlighted in a Frontiers in Psychology article.

  • The Increasing Importance of Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is becoming a cornerstone of effective project management. Understanding and managing emotions is crucial for conflict resolution, team motivation, and stakeholder management. Dr. Travis Bradberry, co-author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0, said, “Emotional intelligence is the strongest predictor of performance.”



Project leadership continues to be the cornerstone of successful project management. Each of the six key leadership styles offers unique benefits depending on the situation.

In the age of digital transformation, project management is undergoing fundamental changes. For instance, AI is now a valuable tool for data-driven decision-making and risk evaluation.

Add to this the ever-evolving power of today’s project management software. It goes beyond mere organization – it’s an extension of your leadership style, offering real-time collaboration and in-depth analytics.

The rise in remote work has also shifted the dynamics, requiring a focus on results rather than just processes and effective use of digital communication tools. Likewise, emotional intelligence is becoming increasingly important, especially for conflict resolution and team motivation.

Understanding and applying various leadership styles – especially in modern technological trends – can help all project managers develop leadership skills. This ensures the success of individual projects and promotes a culture of ongoing improvement and innovation.



The information provided in this article is based on current research and trends in project management and leadership. While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy and completeness of this information, it should not be used as a substitute for professional advice or judgment. 

The leadership styles’ applicability may vary depending on the specific circumstances, industry, or cultural context. Readers should consult with qualified professionals for specific advice tailored to their situation.



  • Goffee, Rob, Jones, Gareth (2006). ‘Why Should Anyone Be Led By You?’, Harvard Business Review. 
  • Goleman, Daniel (2000) ‘Leadership that gets results’, Harvard Business Review, 78. 
  • Tannenbaum, Robert & Schmidt, Warren H. (1973), ‘How to Choose a Leadership Pattern,’ Harvard Business Review, 9. 
  • Kotter, John P. (2008) ‘A Sense of Urgency,’ Harvard Business Press, pp. 7. 
  • Semedo, Carla Santarém, Salvador, Ana, Dos Santos, Nuno Rebelo, Pais, Leonor, Mónico, Lisete (2022) ‘Toxic Leadership and Empowering Leadership’, NCBI, PMC9343254.
  • Transformational Leadership and Project Success (2021). ‘Serial Mediation,’ Frontiers in Psychology.
  • Understanding the Impact of Transformational Leadership (2021). ‘On Project,’ NCBI.
  • A Study of the Impact of Different Styles of Leadership (2022). ‘On Project Quality Performance: An Empirical Analysis,’ ResearchGate.
  • Influence of Project Managers Leadership Style (2020). ‘On Project Implementation,’ ResearchGate.
  • The Effect of Leadership Styles (2020). ‘On Project Implementation,’ SCIRP.
  • ‘How AI Will Transform Project Management,’ Harvard Business Review, 2023.
  • ‘How AI is Changing the Role of Project Leaders’, PMI, Digital Exclusives.
  • ‘Artificial Intelligence Enabled Project Management’, MDPI, 13(8).
  • ‘Report on the Impact of Artificial Intelligence on Project Management,’ OSF Preprints.
  • ‘Implementation of Artificial Intelligence in Project Management,’ Diva Portal.
Peter Doyle
Peter Doyle

BrightWork Project Management Consultant

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