Written by Wayne Brantley, PMP

In a recent study by the Project Management Institute® (PMI), it was stated that the most important skill in successfully managing highly complex projects is leadership. In fact, leadership was considered to be of greater significance than technical project management skills, and strategic and business skills.

The study determined that although it’s important to oversee cost and schedule performance, that isn’t enough in itself. The need to manage ambiguity, political and personal conflicts, and decentralized teams creates numerous challenges for project managers.

Leadership is often identified as an essential area of development for successful organizations. It is critical that leadership be a part of an organization’s talent management strategy. Aligning an organization’s talent management strategy to organizational strategy will lead to more successful projects. Among the key leadership skills that were identified in the PMI study were negotiation, persuasion and collaboration.

Why has leadership grown into such a critical skill for project managers? The fact that the workforce has grown more diversified and geographically dispersed are two obstacles that project managers now face with increasing frequency. Projects, by nature, consist of cross-functional teams throughout an organization that do not always report to the project manager.

Faced with such challenges, project managers must motivate and lead.

Creating a high-performing team is essential to creating high-performing organizations. The PMI study, Pulse of the Profession: Capturing the Value of Project Management, found that high-performing organizations are twice as likely to meet their goals. Such organizations also waste about 13 times less money per project than low-performing organizations.

From Project Manager to Project Leader

These statistics demonstrate that leadership skills help organizations reach strategic goals more effectively. So, why do so many project managers lack leadership skills?

Project managers aren’t born. We didn’t grow up dreaming of becoming a project manager rather than an astronaut or a baseball all-star. The path to project manager often leads through a primary technical skill.

In the 1990s, it was common for a project manager to be selected based on a particular technical skill – maybe she or he was the best software developer in the organization. So the employee was congratulated, given the title of Project Manager and sent off to project management training, discovering all types of amazing tools and techniques to apply to projects!

Today, we must take a more holistic approach to the development of effective project managers. In addition to schedule, cost, quality, risk and other traditional aspects of project management, organizations should consider leadership, communication, negotiation and presentation skills, along with management theory, motivational techniques and conflict management training. 

As we look toward the next decade of project management, perhaps we should be referring to these professionals not as project managers, but as project leaders.

Want to learn more about project management? Read Wayne Brantley’s recent article about the commonalities between the Agile and PMBOK® methodologies.

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