Top 10 Tips for Project Leaders


The world is awash in leadership advice. From Tony RobbinsSeth Godin and Sheryl Sandberg, to our own well of leadership training articles and videos, leadership can, as a consequence, feel like a magical, elusive quality reserved for a few good TED talkers.

Yet leadership happens every day. You don’t have to be in a position of power to practice or demonstrate true leadership. After all, most leaders start out at the bottom, like all of us. From there, they hone leadership skills through observation and practice. The countless people who are running projects day in and day out are leading people, whether they have dedicated teams or not. Large or small, distributed or in an office, contractors or full-time employees, projects generally depend on multiple people to get the job done. These are daily opportunities for leadership.

Leadership is a quality that can be learned by everyone. Here are a few tips our team has learned and thought helpful to share:

1. Be a follower.

It’s not just for Zen monks. The art of following is the true art of leadership. You need to put yourself in the service of your team members in order to help them, help you, succeed.

2. Ask questions. 

It’s so easy to talk when teams stare blankly at you (or you hear crickets on a group Skype), while they wait for direction and leadership at the start of a meeting. But begin asking, “What do you think about…X?”-type questions and you’ll start to receive a whole ton of news you didn’t know you needed to know.

3. Demand collaboration.

Sounds like an oxymoron, but remember there’s no collaboration if your team doesn’t feel safe collaborating. And sometimes the only way to the first breakthrough that un-comfortability, is to insist. There are personality and cultural differences that mean some prefer clear direction and are not initially comfortable offering up their opinion. But in order to get a team truly functioning, everyone needs to participate and add value through their ideas and input.

You can find ways for shy team members to contribute in ways that they are comfortable – so remember to offer options like an anonymous tip jar or private emails, along with your demands for better participation.

4. Give all you can… and then give a little more.

You need to not just appear to go above and beyond for your team but actually do so, while managing to…

5. Demonstrate work-life balance.

Going above and beyond, as noted above, should not come at the expense of your own health and well-being. All too often, leaders think that by staying extra late and working through weekends, they’re showing their commitment to their team or their project. When instead, they’re guilting their team into feeling like they need to share their team leader’s bad work-life habits.

6. Help your team to stretch.

Learn what skills they want to develop or what goals they have (even if they aren’t related to this present job or field.). Then, help provide opportunities to grow their skills.

7. Keep learning and stretching yourself.

Take courses, or attend (meaningful) conferences. Make sure you are really up on the latest best practices in your field and you’re open to learning new things. “It’s always worked for me” is not a sign of leadership, but complacency.

8. Hold your team (and yourself) accountable.

It should go without saying, but lead by example. That way, you can follow up on missed deadlines or unfulfilled projects by others. Leadership is about making some tough calls, too—when warranted.

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings famously said of his company’s HR revolution, “At most companies, average performers get an average raise. At Netflix, they get a generous severance package.” While reinventing your HR culture may not be in your job description, your team’s overall health must be considered. If a team member is not delivering, despite your best intentions and support, they might need to be benched or cut from the team.

9. Be honest.

Bull**** just smells bad, so make sure you’re clear and honest with feedback or with project news and updates. Treat your team like your trusted peers and communicate the truth whenever you can.

10. Be human.

Leadership is not about being a superhero. Be fallible and own up to your own mistakes. Be approachable and compassionate. Be a friend at times and don’t be afraid to shed a tear.

So what makes these tips unique to projects? Just this final tidbit: You may or not be the CEO or president, but you’re leading teams. Project leadership is about any group of people coming together to get something done. It’s not about shareholders (though they may play a part.) It’s not about the end-users (though they, too, play a part.) Leading projects is all about the team. As Susanne Madsen says: “You manage tasks, and lead people.” ROI and deliverables are only as good as the people on your team.

And that starts with you.

One thing a good leader does is supply the team with the right tools to get their job done, tools that offer features they need, and that update in real-time to give a clear and present picture of what’s going on. The online software suite from ProjectManager gives you that and more, which you can experience for yourself free with a 30-day free trial period.

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