10 Ways to Develop Your Project Leadership Style Cultivate a leadership style that works for you, your team, and collaborative project management
“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”
A core theme in Collaborative Project Management: A Handbook (2nd edition) is the importance of leadership to successful projects. In the context of collaborative project management, it is helpful to think of leadership as a way to excite people to outstanding performance. As a project manager, you must manage the people and process side of a project, developing a leadership style and a set of approaches that works for you, your team, and collaborative project management.
Leadership becomes even more vital when linked to employee engagement. An “engaged employee” is defined as one who is fully absorbed by and is enthusiastic about their work, and takes positive action to further the organization’s reputation and interests.
Strong leadership also contributes to organizational success. Research shows organizations with exceptional leaders enjoy more profits, increased customer satisfaction, and higher employee retention levels.
According to the Project Management Institute’s Pulse of the Profession 2017, more organizations are prioritizing the development of leadership skills to boost project success rates.
Using BrightWork as an example, this resource outlines practical tips and strategies to help you cultivate a collaborative leadership style to boost employee engagement and productivity levels.
10 Ways to Cultivate Your Leadership Style
1. Cultivate Essential Leadership Skills
Meaningful, effective leadership begins with you, the project manager. As project leader, you need to develop and demonstrate certain skills to earn the trust of your team and set the right tone. Here are some essential soft-skills worth investing in.
- Communication: Human Resource adviser, Fred Holloway’s observation that “You can tie back almost every employee issue –attendance, morale, performance, and productivity – to communication,” applies just as much to project management as it does to HR, since a core part of the project manager’s role is communicating with the project team. From developing a communication plan for every project to understanding different communication styles, conveying goals, delivering reports, and managing remote teams, developing the right communication skills can make or break your project.
- Time Management: Conflicting priorities, unexpected issues, a constant stream of new requests, and a lack of vital resources often means we waste time on irrelevant or unimportant work instead of tackling high-value, meaningful tasks.Time is a finite resource so you need to be decisive and clear about how you spend your time. Suggestions include taking a time-management training course, developing a method for prioritizing tasks, and learning to delegate.
- Emotional Intelligence: Emotional Intelligence (EI), also known as Emotional Intelligence Quotient (EQ), is an increasingly sought-after skill for individual team members and project managers. EI refers to the ability to recognize your emotions and understand how your emotions affect people around you. EI skills enable project managers to motivate teams, encourage collaboration, influence others, and make better decisions. There are several ways to develop your emotional intelligence levels including practicing empathy, developing an approach for dealing with difficult situations, and seeking feedback about your communication style from others.
- Conflict Management: Conflict is an unavoidable presence in our personal and professional lives. Individual opinions, ideas, beliefs and personality clash for many, many reasons! Ideally, project managers should establish acceptable team behaviors, and take preventive steps to prevent any conflicts from escalating. In reality, you will likely need to tackle conflict more directly with the relevant parties.
- Dealing with Failure: Failure is part of life, and projects are no exception. Often, the fear of failure exceeds the consequences of failure, reducing individual appetite for risk and experimentation. However, failure is necessary to success, offering an important way to grow and change. Learning to ‘fall upwards’ will enable you to deal both with failure positively and become more tolerant towards the failures of others. The importance of resilience and failure is increasingly recognized as a desirable leadership trait; in fact, some universities are now running courses on failure.
2. Core Values
People willingly follow leaders they like, trust and respect; if you lose the respect of the team, leadership becomes very difficult. The type of person you are and your values affect both your leadership style and success. People will not follow the “do as I say, and not as I do” leader for very long.
What values do you live by? What is your moral compass? What do you stand for? Does your company have core values that you believe in?
At BrightWork, we have adopted these two core values:
- Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.
- Be the change that you wish to see in the world.
As a team, we have set the expectation that we all work to these core values. The first core value (“do unto others”) covers our relationships and interactions with each other, our customers, our partners, our suppliers and our wider community. It is such a fundamental value that it saves having to define hundreds of other rules and protocols as many actions can be judged by this one value.
The second core value (“be the change”) protects us from complacency and the status quo. It protects us from falling to the low levels of dis-engaged team members.
Have you ever suffered or had to endure bad leadership? On reflection, what did you learn from this experience?
How does your leadership capabilities and style compare to the quote above?
3. Be Mission Focused
As a leader, you need to keep your eye on the project goals and make sure that your team has the same focus. Research conducted by the Harvard Business School demonstrates that assessing individual goals, aligning these goals with corporate strategies, and supporting teams in achieving their goals is vitally important to engagement and performance. Connecting individuals to their ‘why’ is a very powerful motivator.
To reach group consensus on the goal, use a workshop to discuss objectives, measures of success, and individual responsibilities. In your collaborative project management site, team meetings, and one-to-one sessions, discuss the goal and how the team is progressing towards the agreed objectives regularly.
4. Decide on a Leadership Model
In BrightWork, everyone on the team plays the role of leader for an area of work or a project; everyone is a leader with autonomy. The CEO, the line managers, and the project managers have a specific leadership responsibility for an area or a project, and every team member has at least one area that they lead for the company or project.
Very few leaders are able to achieve their goals alone, and each leader at BrightWork is given the authority to:
- Set expectations and get agreement on same with a wider team of people (who may or may not be formally on a project)
- Give real support to the team
- Hold team members accountable for deliverables (as necessary).
This devolved leadership model works for us at BrightWork. It makes projects more enjoyable and successful. What leadership model is right for your project or situation?
5. Decide on a Team Model
Continuing to use BrightWork as an example, we can consider the ideal team model for collaborative project management.
Each major team in BrightWork (e.g. engineering, sales, marketing, customer success, etc.) has a Vice President (VP). The VP is the leader with overall responsibility to lead and manage the success of that business team; each of these teams also has sub-teams.
These teams rely on successful project management. Teams are formed as needed to deliver on these projects, each with a designated leader. Individuals in the company will be leaders on some teams and serve as team members on other projects. Some teams will be self-managed and self-directed without a formally appointed leader. In this respect, everyone in the company plays the role of team member on some teams.
What is the right team model for your project or group?
6. Decide on Team Dynamics
Talk to team members about the responsibility they are expected to carry on a collaborative project. Ask collaborative team members to:
- Take responsibility given
- Contribute to the team
- Challenge the direction respectfully
- Accept the agreed team direction
- Participate in the speed of the project
- Always take positive actions
- Communicate often and openly.
It’s also important to develop your team’s emotional intelligence. An emotionally intelligent team refers to the ability of a group to manage and harness emotions for positive outcomes. An emotionally intelligent team is not simply a combination of individual emotional intelligence and self-awareness, but rather, the result of active team development. According to Daniel Goleman, emotionally intelligent or ‘star’ teams are defined by:
- Open, honest communication
- A desire to improve
- Awareness of strengths and weaknesses
- Proactive problem-solving
- Good relationships with other teams.
Team members who feel part of a worthwhile group and recognize that they work better together than apart are likely to reach higher levels of collaboration and productivity. They are also more confident when dealing with challenges and change.
Finally, the right team dynamic plays a critical role in collaborative project management. Why not try the following approach with your team?
- Collegiate / Companions (friendly and enjoyable with no need for fear)
- Collaborative (on the one team and on the one project helping each other)
- Challenging (to each other – but respectfully) with the Conflict required for innovation. Be comfortable asking and answering uncomfortable questions.
- Can do attitude – and no such thing as I/we can’t.
7. Desired Leadership Practices
What is really expected of a project leader? This list of examples will help you decide your own practices.
- Integrity is key for leaders. Always treat others as you wish to be treated. Remember one of the two core values from above … “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.”
- Lead by example, remembering the other of the two core values … “Be the change that you wish to see in the world”.
- Leaders need to create a dream, a vision, a goal and communicate this really well.
- Leaders need to know themselves and be self-aware. They need to practice what they preach and never bluff.
- Leaders need to have external awareness and should honestly, empathetically and respectively express:
- The joy of success, and say “Thanks” more often
- The pain of failure
- Concern at slow progress. In these honest expressions, leaders should remain calm and empathize with their team.
- Delegate Responsibly
- People can adjust to change and will withstand much if everyone gets fair treatment.
- Always be fair, firm yet friendly – the 3 Fs.
- Sincere communication is vital. Ask and listen well so you can learn and lead.
- Do not make remarks on the person or personality; rather focus on the actions, tasks and the job at hand.
- Give very critical feedback in private and in person in a one-on-one setting – not in the open plan office, in a group meeting, or on email.
- Leaders must be visible; they must serve with the people they lead.
- As a new leader, you now have weight. Pull your weight – do not throw it around!
- If you breach any of the above-desired leadership approaches, be big enough to admit it and apologize at the earliest possible time.
8. Desired Team Member Practices
What are the desired practices for the role of team member? Here is a suggested list to get you started.
- Integrity is key for all team members. Always treat others as you wish to be treated. Remember one of the two core values … “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.”
- Assume personal responsibility for the success of your deliverables.
- Team effort is the key for greater success. Offer help to the team. Be open and expect new tasks outside your own deliverables.
- Mistakes happen. Admit and get over them, but always learn from them. Be comfortable to “fall upwards.”
- Expect issues from time to time. Deal with them quickly. Do not let them fester. When the issue is resolved, leave it behind.
- Respect deadlines and sign-off dates for deliverables.
- This is a fast-paced environment with multiple, simultaneous commitments, so invest in time management practices to deliver on your responsibilities.
- As a team member, you need the courage to:
- Take the responsibility given to you and contribute to the team.
- Challenge the direction and accept the final direction of the team.
- Participate in the speed of the group.
- Take moral actions in line with the two core values above.
9. Situational Leadership: Dictate or Delegate
The leadership techniques and style you deploy will depend on the situation at hand. There are several factors that help us understand the situation. Let’s look at four:
- Ability Spectrum: Sometimes you will find the team members capable, competent, and able to do the job at hand. Sometimes, they are on the other end of this spectrum, and are not capable or trained for the tasks ahead.
- Attitude Spectrum: There will be days when you will find team members energetic, enthusiastic and very willing. These are often followed by lazy, lethargic, and unproductive days.
- Time Pressure Spectrum: Project tasks are usually high priority or flexible.
- Environment Spectrum: Some projects live is a very stable and well-regulated environment whilst others live is a manic, high growth, unstable environment.
Plotting the above factors on a spectrum, the left-hand side of the spectrum is less desirable than the right-hand side. In all cases as a leader, you will try to shift individuals to the right. On the ability spectrum, you can help people move to the right with more training; people will also get there with time and experience. On the attitude spectrum, find out what is causing the inertia of the left-hand side and deal with these issues to bring the energy to the right-hand side. On the time spectrum, try to extend project deadlines to ease the time pressure. On the environment spectrum, investigate what is causing the chaos that is pushing the team to the left-hand side and address these issues to move to the right-hand side.
In any of these situations, the practices of leadership described above should remain valid but the approaches you deploy will vary depending on where you are on the spectrum. Let’s break these into three approaches:
- Show and Tell: If you are on the left of some or all of the spectrums, you will need to show people how to do the task or tell them to just do it. There simply isn’t time to do otherwise. In this situation, give instructions, and be authoritarian if needed. Hopefully, the team will move to the right of the spectrum so your involvement becomes less invasive.
- Mentor and Participate: If you are mid-spectrum on some or all of the above, help the person understand how to deliver on the task at hand; you may also actively participate as needs be. Give the individual responsibility for the task but do stay close in case they need help.
- Coach and Delegate: If you are to the right of the spectrum, you are typically in a great place. As you and your team discuss desired outcomes, they are likely asking questions and coming up with the first set of answers themselves. Coach your team to the best performance but step back so they can complete the task.
10. Manage Poor Performance
Poor performance can come from a number of places. Based on the four spectrums above, poor performance can arise from:
- Low capability: The person is just not able.
- Low motivation: The person is not interested or engaged.
- Lack of time: Not enough time given to the job.
- Chaotic environment: The systems or processes are all wrong or non-existent.
You need to identify why the performance is poor. By examining these four factors and asking “why is this” until you get to the root cause, you may find some of the following to be true:
- Low capability: The person was not trained or just does not have the aptitude for this kind of task.
- Low motivation: The person is not being compensated enough or has a really bad attitude.
- Lack of time: The deadline was totally unrealistic. The person completely miscalculated the time needed or planned very poorly.
- Chaotic environment: The customer keeps changing their mind and is very demanding. The person responsible did not deploy needed systems or processes.
Keep digging until you get to the root cause and reason for the poor performance. At that point, the fix for the poor performance will typically become obvious. If the fix is not yet obvious, you may not yet be at the root cause of the poor performance, so keep investigating. Once you get to the root cause, you will know whether you are in a ‘show and tell’, a ‘mentor and participate’ or a ‘coach and delegate’ situation.
If you are hesitant about providing feedback to a team member, remember this survey result: 57% of 889 respondents want to receive constructive feedback which helped them to improve their performance. Team members want, and need, feedback to grow in their roles
Next Steps: REP
Trying to implement some or all of the above suggestions at once is impossible and likely to lead to confusion and frustration! At BrightWork, we have formulated the “REP” approach to personal change management. REP stands for Research, Execute and Post-Mortem.
Using the REP model, pick one or two suggestions to try. Research best practices and identify key steps to start with. Keeping a ‘REP’ journal is a useful way to track your ideas and resources. Next, Execute your ideas, setting aside some time each week. Finally, after a few weeks, reflect on your activities and progress. Use the learnings from this Post-Mortem to inform your next REP.