How Project Managers Can Become Leaders

Businesses are driving strategy through project implementation, and, as a result, project complexity is on the rise. No longer relegated to the operational arena, projects require cross-functional leadership from the project managers driving them. The project manager’s ability to act as a leader is critical to a successful outcome, as project managers must cultivate support and participation from people across the organization, including the project team, project sponsors and key business partners.

In the Research Journal of Recent Sciences, Riza, Tahir and Noor posit that the project management field is becoming increasingly diverse, challenging and critical, and will undoubtedly continue to require project managers who can act as leaders.

Balancing stakeholder opinion, negotiating with different departments and resolving conflict – all while keeping the project on schedule and in budget –  requires a strong leader at the helm.

To cultivate critical leadership skills and approach project management as a leader, focus on these six areas:

Build Your Communication Skills

Project managers communicate across multiple platforms, including in writing, speaking to groups and meeting with individuals. Your audience will vary as well, from project teammates to experts to C-level stakeholders. Communication will cover an array of subjects, such as communicating goals, establishing responsibilities, assessing performance, setting expectations and offering feedback.

To communicate effectively, you’ll need to tailor your message to the audience, and always strive to be clear, concise and accurate. In some cases, emotions may run high during tight deadlines or in the face of errors or challenges. The project manager’s role is to remain approachable, empathize with frustrated team members and continue to motivate the team and convey confidence to stakeholders. When communicating with senior leadership, you’ll need to offer high-level information and avoid getting bogged down in technical details.

Focus on Relationships and Conflict Resolution

When team members are locked in a conflict, the project manager may need to step in and support a resolution.

Negotiation is also important. For example, you may need to negotiate the assignment of an expert to your team for the duration of the project, or agree on a  better delivery schedule with a supplier.

Ultimately, project teams and stakeholders are just people, and your ability to foster good relationships with them provides a foundation for conflict resolution and negotiation when necessary. You can develop strong relationships by seeking compromise, clearly valuing people, building trust, striving for consensus, cultivating a professional network and balancing conflicting objectives.

Sharing a Vision

A fundamental tenant of leadership is the ability to inspire all team members to pursue a collective vision. Not only do you need to have a vision, but you also need to be able to articulate it to your team in a motivating, inspiring way. Inspiring vision provides the overall picture for your project, and offers a drive and tone to the project overall. When teammates and stakeholders buy into the vision, it becomes motivating and relatable for each individual.


Between all the opinions from stakeholders and teammates and demands on your time and attention, you’ll need to prioritize well. This means retaining a clear commitment to focusing on the most important elements of the project. Prioritization can be accomplished by regularly reviewing and adjusting plans, determining high priorities, and naming critical success areas. Prioritizing can also require flexibility to adjust priorities or change an approach.

Team Building

As the leader of the project team, the project manager must strive to unite the team with a unified goal, and in some cases, this may mean altering your leadership style depending on the phase of the project and the key team members involved at a given stage.

Part of team building can be mitigating conflict and resolving issues. As a leader, it is important to resolve issues individually, with active listening and constructive feedback.

And, sometimes, team building comes down to having a sense of humor, encouraging fun and maintaining a service-centric approach to leadership.

Cultivate Collaboration

Now that you’ve built a group of strangers into a team, you need to cultivate collaboration. When a team works well and collaborates together, efficiency, productivity, creativity, vision and success all get a boost, as the individuals in the team build off one another.

Collaboration stems from the team leader, which means you’ll need to model collaboration through transparency, seeking and providing feedback, and working alongside your team. As a leader, you should understand individual team member’s strengths and weaknesses, and encourage individual growth as well as teamwork that can enhance strengths and diminish weaknesses.

Positioning yourself as a leader in your organization supports positive project outcomes and enables you to mobilize and motivate people for quicker resolutions.

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