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Five Ways to Become a Project Leader

Updated: Jun 10, 2023

There are multiple roles that the project manager will play during a project but one of the most important is the role of leader. In this article, we'll discuss five ways to become a project leader.

What is a leader?

A leader is someone who rallies a project team to accomplish a common goal. Along this journey, leaders put people first by being empathetic with their teammates. Each organization will have a definition of leadership or organizational values that project managers should follow.

Link to the Managing a Large IT Project online course

What are the 5 Ways to Become an Effective Leader?

1. Motivate Your Team

Don't micromanage the project team - allow autonomy and empower the project team. The project manager doesn't have to be part of every meeting or have all communication funneled through them. The project manager allows the team to work on their own but must hold them accountable to meet milestone dates. For example, if the development team has technical meetings to discuss solutions, the project manager doesn't have to be involved in every discussion. However, the development team is accountable for meeting target deadlines and ensuring that the project manager is aware of any issues.

During the project execution, the project manager reminds the team of the current execution status compared to the overall timeline. The project manager shares enthusiasm that the team is getting closer and closer to the ultimate goal - go live!

2. Communicate with Confidence

A major factor of a project manager being confident is knowing what needs to happen in order for their project to be successful. If a project manager is unclear on what needs to happen, they need to meet with the appropriate subject matter experts (SMEs) to fully understand. A project manager will not be confident if they are unsure of what needs to happen. This lack of confidence can be mitigated with the project manager understanding the project management role.

The project manager must convey information quickly and not ramble. The project team has many tasks to take care of and there's no time for confusion if information is not conveyed clearly. For a project manager just starting in their career, a great idea would be to take a public speaking course or join a public speaking organization. Like any skill set, communicating with confidence needs to be practiced to be perfected. This is especially true if the project manager needs to manage communications with distributed teams.

3. Be Decisive

The project manager should analyze the project consistently for potential risks or issues and have a plan for when they do happen. Having a plan in place to deal with issues helps the project manager to be more decisive. If it's necessary to meet with project teammates to help make a decision then this should be done instead of the project manager making the wrong assumption and leading the team in the wrong direction.

One final item that demonstrates decisiveness is when the project manager enters status meetings already having accurate feedback from the project team. As the project manager conveys the status to the stakeholders, the plans to manage risks are clearly stated. This demonstrates decisiveness rather than the project manager saying, "I need to check with the development team on that."

4. Listen!

When interacting with the project team, it's important that the project manager allows project teammates to explain themselves and not interrupt. If the project manager is impatient, important information may be missed and, worse, the specific teammate will feel devalued and not motivated to contribute information. It's also okay to disagree on topics discussed but it's critical to maintain professionalism. Finally, the project manager will not look good if they interrupt and happen to be incorrect with their assumptions.

5. Conflict Resolution

One component of conflict resolution for the project manager is standing up for the project team. Vendors or the business may attempt to "bully" the project team to do whatever they want but the project manager must establish and enforce the project management governance.

One example of this is the business trying to increase the scope after the deadline for the requirements lockdown has passed. The project manager must remind the business of the importance of following the project management governance in regard to change requests. The exception is if there is a critical requirement that has come up but even this change should go through a formal change request process.

During the course of a conflict, the project manager should gather all opinions in a professional manner and negotiate with the project team as to the best direction forward. Also, the project manager should know when to escalate when a conflict has not been resolved or resources behave unprofessionally.

If the project manager demonstrates leadership, the project team will be inspired and will want to work for the project manager. This is a critical step in order for a project manager to successfully manage a project.

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