Updated On: May 9, 2023
By AMA Staff
Many people feel that the ability to manage a project and a team is an innate skill—that anyone should be able to do it, that it is so easy that it should be a part-time job, that there really is no “talent” involved.
As projects become bigger and more complex, with more functions affected by them, the ability of a project manager to manage both the big picture and the details is critical for success. In fact, the “easy” part might be to learn the hard skills, such as using the project management tools, learning the software, writing the reports, doing the presentations.
Project Manager Leadership Skills
What becomes more critical is managing all the relationships with and among the people on the project. Here are the three “must-have” skills for every successful project manager:
1. Communication and interpersonal skills
It is often said that the primary reason projects fail is due to communication mishaps, not for technical reasons. As a project manager, you are at the hub of the wheel, the central focus-point for all the communications that go on surrounding the project. It is critical that you model exceptional communication skills with your team and stakeholders.
You must be able to communicate well:
—Verbally: For example, when discussing project updates with your team, you should be able to articulate your thoughts and ideas clearly and concisely to avoid misunderstandings.
—In writing: When drafting a project status report, your writing should be clear, concise, and well-organized to ensure stakeholders can quickly grasp the project's progress.
—In front of a group: For example, when presenting project updates in a meeting, you should be able to engage the audience and convey the necessary information effectively.
—In one-on-one conversations: For instance, when discussing a team member's performance, you should be able to provide constructive feedback and listen actively to their concerns.
Interpersonal skills also need to be operating at a high level. Ask yourself:
—How well do I share what I am really feeling or thinking? Can I do it without the recipient going on the defensive? When expressing concerns about a project's timeline, you should be able to communicate your thoughts tactfully to avoid conflict.
—How approachable am I? Do people come to me easily with issues, no matter how severe? If a team member feels comfortable discussing their struggles with meeting deadlines, you have created an open and supportive environment.
—Am I liked and respected by my team members? Am I easy to get along with? For example, if your team members frequently seek your input and advice, it shows they value your opinion and trust your judgment.
—How well do I empathize with others when they hit a crisis, either on the project or in their lives? If a team member experiences a personal loss, you should be able to offer your support and understanding during their difficult time.
—Do I prefer to work with others in a group versus alone? For example, if you enjoy brainstorming sessions with your team and collaborating on solutions, it demonstrates your ability to work effectively in a group setting.
Some people are born with magnetism and charisma; others might have to work a bit to develop it. As a project manager, much of your time is involved in interactions with people, even if you are a “technical” project manager. Given this, doing some objective self-analysis of how you interact with others and making refinements, if necessary, will serve you well in the long run.
2. Ability to negotiate and resolve conflicts
How capable are you of aiding two team members in resolving a conflict? Can you negotiate with a functional manager to get the person with the critical skills assigned to your team? As a project manager, your probability of success will increase if you have, or can develop, these skill sets.
3. Building commitment within the team
Building team commitment starts with having a clear reason and purpose for being together in the first place. Once that is established, it is always wise to do some relationship building while the team is going through the project definition and planning process. Underlying this is your understanding of how team dynamics operates. It is not only “getting the job done” that is important—HOW you get it done counts. There are people who would rather be on a less important project and enjoy working with the team rather than on a “hot” project where there is constant battle, personality issues, and conflict. Do you know how to optimize the possibility for your team to be committed? To you? To the team? To the goal? To the project?
4. Effective Delegation and Empowerment
A vital skill for a successful project manager is the ability to delegate tasks strategically and empower team members to take charge of their responsibilities. Are you able to assign tasks based on individual strengths and expertise, while considering the project's overall goals and deadlines? By delegating effectively and fostering a sense of ownership, you can boost team motivation, job satisfaction, and overall project success. As a project manager, enhancing your delegation and empowerment abilities will not only lead to better team performance but also help you manage your own workload efficiently, ultimately increasing your project's chances of success.
5. Problem-Solving and Adaptability
Mastering the art of problem-solving and adaptability is crucial for a project manager in today's dynamic business environment. Are you able to identify potential issues before they escalate, and devise creative solutions to address them effectively? Can you adjust your plans and strategies when faced with unexpected challenges or changes in project requirements? As a project manager, honing your problem-solving skills and developing a flexible mindset will enable you to navigate through obstacles and keep your project on track. Embracing adaptability is key to ensuring your team's resilience and maintaining project momentum, even in the face of unforeseen circumstances.
Concluding thoughts on team leader skills
Communication is often cited as one of the most frequent reasons that a project “fails,” that is, comes in late, over budget, and/or with marginal performance. If communication is open, honest, direct, accurate, and used both vertically and horizontally throughout an organization, efficiency is enhanced, second-guessing stops, and hidden agendas cease to exist. The result: Project teams experience less stress and a much higher success rate.
Remember, we choose how we communicate, whether consciously or unconsciously. So pay attention to what you say and how you are perceived by others. When you speak to the project team, watch them to see how they respond to your words, and adjust accordingly.
© 2004 American Management Association. All rights reserved. Excerpted and adapted from Project Team Leadership: Building Commitment Through Superior Communication
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About The Author(s)
American Management Association is a world leader in professional development, advancing the skills of individuals to drive business success. AMA’s approach to improving performance combines experiential learning—“learning through doing”—with opportunities for ongoing professional growth at every step of one’s career journey. AMA supports the goals of individuals and organizations through a complete range of products and services, including seminars, Webcasts and podcasts, conferences, corporate and government solutions, business books and research.