3 Leadership Styles for Effective Project Management

Published: Nov 02, 2021
Modified: Apr 10, 2023


Effective project management fundamentals really don’t come naturally. Project management is a specific skill—or more accurately, a specific set of skills. Along with organization, time management, budget management, risk management, technological savvy, negotiation, research and reporting skills, and problem-solving, project managers need to excel at leadership.

Project leadership requires a blend of soft skills, such as communication, active listening, and motivation, along with the bottom-line capabilities of project management. In their role as leaders, project managers must learn how to serve both the needs of the project and the needs of their team members—not an easy task. Managing the people on the team and how they relate to one another is crucial to ensuring ongoing collaboration and strong team commitment at the foundation of every project’s successful completion.

In today’s fast-changing workplace and with the increasing rise of remote and hybrid teams, being an effective project manager requires not only an arsenal of leadership skills, but also a command of different leadership styles. While no one is a born leader, everyone has a “natural” leadership style—a way of guiding, coaching, motivating, and inspiring people that aligns with their personality and individual strengths. However, different situations in the life a project require different leadership styles.

From the experts at American Management Association (AMA), a world leader in professional development, here’s a look at three major styles of leadership, with tips on when to apply each to the challenges of managing a project and the team behind it:

Directive Leadership. Sometimes, project managers need to tell their team members exactly what to do and how to do it. That’s when Directive Leadership works best. This style might be viewed as a more take charge, “I’m in control” approach. Directive Leadership is often necessary at the beginning of a project or in an emergency situation. This style can also work well when team members report directly to the project manager or lack experience with the type of project at hand.

Participative Leadership. This style, also known as Democratic Leadership, is a method of leadership that gets all the team members involved in identifying important project goals, developing strategies and procedures to achieve them, and generating enthusiasm to keep the momentum going. Participative Leadership works best when trust is high between the project manager and the team—and when multiple perspectives on an issue are especially valuable.

Facilitative Leadership. This is the least hands-on and most empowering approach to leading a project team. A Facilitative Leader steps back into a supportive role and lets team members “own” project problems by giving them the freedom and authority to find the best solutions. This style works best when team members have the knowledge and expertise to make sound decisions for the success of the project and when team dynamics are strong.

For every project manager, developing leadership skills is essential. And in your role as a project leader, regardless of what style comes naturally, you need to stay flexible and adaptive to different needs and priorities throughout the project’s lifecycle. Being both the best possible leader and the right kind of leader at the right time is imperative to your team’s performance and the project’s outcome.

About AMA

American Management Association (AMA) is globally recognized as a leader in professional development. For nearly 100 years, it has helped millions of people bring about positive change in their performance in order to improve results. AMA’s learn-by-doing instructor-led methods, extensive content, and flexible learning formats are proven effective—and constantly evolve to meet the changing needs of individuals and organizations. To learn more, visit www.amanet.org.