By Amanda Winstead
Project managers are the ultimate jugglers of the workplace. They often wear many hats and oversee various tasks, ensuring everyone is on schedule and working toward the same end goal. As such, they often need to be good problem solvers, excellent time managers, and coordinators — but more than that, they need to be good leaders.
Managing a team or a project is one thing, but leading is something else. It’s about having a good rapport with your team and knowing how to effectively communicate with and lead them.
Even if your project management role isn’t officially one of leadership, having quality leadership skills can help you have more success in your role. And in the long run, having these skills as a PM could help you move up in your career so that you can eventually take on a leadership role if such a position is desired.
The Importance of Leadership as a Project Manager
Now more than ever, project managers must not only be effective team leaders, but they should thrive in the role filled with plenty of challenges. As we transition more into a society of workers that prioritize flexible hybrid and remote working schedules, you could be overseeing a project that is being handled by a team that isn’t all in one place, making coordinating tasks and timelines more of a challenge.
But with the right leadership skills as a PM, team collaboration and project coordination can be much more successful. Even if you work for a company where everyone is working from the same place, companies are increasingly expecting more from their project managers as industries become more competitive and fast-paced.
You will be expected to handle a wide range of tasks as well as successfully bring people together to achieve a common goal. PMs aren’t just task managers; they are people managers too, and to be an effective people manager, you need to have good leadership skills.
What Leadership Skills Do Project Managers Need?
Ideally, project managers should have a range of skills to help them better accomplish their jobs, but what skills, in particular, are needed for PMs to become good leaders?
- Emotional Intelligence: As leadership is all about leading people, you need to be able to connect with those people and understand them on an emotional level. You need to be able to perceive, identify, and manage emotions, as well as be able to empathize with them in some situations.
- Communication: Of course, a leader is only as good as their ability to communicate effectively. This includes being able to convey messages and get your point across, as well as being a good listener.
- Patience: No one is perfect and as good as your team might be, they will make mistakes. So it’s important to have patience during these times to show your team that you still believe in them and that you aren’t going to punish them or get angry at them.
- Conflict resolution: There are going to be times when people disagree and things go sideways, so it’s important for you as a PM to remain calm and know how to effectively resolve conflict before it turns into a bigger problem.
How Can Project Managers Improve Their Leadership Skills?
As a project manager, you likely already have some of the skills required to be a good leader. But what can you do to improve upon those skills or add to them?
Take the Time to Understand Your Team
To lead your team, you first need to understand them. How do they work best? What are their work or communication styles? What do they need from you to get the job done? What are their strengths and weaknesses?
A good leader knows that being a leader is not a one-size-fits-all approach. You must be able to lead a group of people with diverse needs, which means your leadership needs to be flexible and diverse as well.
The more time you spend learning to understand the people on your team, the more they will respect you, and the more you will be able to match what they need.
Master Continuous Improvement
Part of learning to be a good leader is always looking for ways to improve. There is always more you can do, and more you can learn.
One way to go about this is to follow the plan-do-check-act (PDCA) cycle. PDCA is a management strategy that helps project leaders master continuous improvement. It is essentially a guide for creating change in business processes.
People in general are dynamic creatures — always changing and evolving through time. However, it’s relatively easy to become complacent and fall behind. With a PDCA cycle, you can always be looking for newer and better ways of doing things.
One of the easiest ways to learn how to improve your skills as a leader is to request feedback from your team and others you work with. It’s much easier to identify what we are doing wrong and what we are doing right when others point it out to us.
Soliciting regular feedback can help you continuously identify things that need improvement. It can also help you better understand your team and what they need, which ties in with the point above.
Try Something New
Sometimes, you need to step out of your comfort zone to learn new skills or improve upon existing ones.
Working with animals, for example, is a different yet surprising way to learn leadership skills that you can take back with you to the office. When you work with animals, you learn the importance of responsibility and empathy, as animals need you to help them and learn to understand and address their needs.
Working with animals also teaches you that, in many situations, your actions speak louder than your words. And finally, animals help you better understand that your respect must be earned. Animals do not owe you respect, especially if you mistreat them, and the same can be said for your team. If you want them to trust and respect you, you must give them a reason to.
As a PM, learning to be a good leader is not something you can simply study on paper. It is something you learn to become by taking active measures to improve your skills both at work and in other situations in your life. The more you work to understand those around you and how to communicate with them and match their needs, the better leader you will become.