Wednesday, 16 May 2012 08:00

Top 10 Leadership Qualities of a Project Manager

Written by Timothy R. Barry
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What qualities are most important for a project manager to be an effective project leader? It's a question often asked and one that makes us sit back and think. Over the past few years, the people at ESI International, a leader in project management training, have looked at what makes an effective project leader. They quizzed some highly-talented project leaders and compiled a running tally of their responses. Below are the top 10 qualities in rank order, according to their frequency listed.

Inspires a Shared Vision

An effective project leader is often described as having a vision of where to go and the ability to articulate it. Visionaries thrive on change and being able to draw new boundaries. It was once said that a leader is someone who "lifts us up, gives us a reason for being and gives the vision and spirit to change." Visionary leaders enable people to feel they have a real stake in the project. They empower people to experience the vision on their own. According to Bennis "They offer people opportunities to create their own vision, to explore what the vision will mean to their jobs and lives, and to envision their future as part of the vision for the organization." (Bennis, 1997)

Related Article: Which of These Leadership Traits Do You Demonstrate?

A Good Communicator

The ability to communicate with people at all levels is almost always named as the second most important skill by project managers and team members. Project leadership calls for clear communication about goals, responsibility, performance, expectations and feedback.

There is a great deal of value placed on openness and directness. The project leader is also the team's link to the larger organization. The leader must have the ability to effectively negotiate and use persuasion when necessary to ensure the success of the team and project. Through effective communication, project leaders support individual and team achievements by creating explicit guidelines for accomplishing results and for the career advancement of team members.


One of the most important things a project leader must remember is that his or her actions, and not words, set the modus operandi for the team. Good leadership demands commitment to, and demonstration of, ethical practices. Creating standards for ethical behavior for oneself and living by these standards, as well as rewarding those who exemplify these practices, are responsibilities of project leaders. Leadership motivated by self-interest does not serve the well being of the team. Leadership based on integrity represents nothing less than a set of values others share, behavior consistent with values and dedication to honesty with self and team members. In other words the leader "walks the talk" and in the process earns trust.


Plain and simple, we don't like leaders who are negative - they bring us down. We want leaders with enthusiasm, with a bounce in their step, with a can-do attitude. We want to believe that we are part of an invigorating journey - we want to feel alive. We tend to follow people with a can-do attitude, not those who give us 200 reasons why something can't be done. Enthusiastic leaders are committed to their goals and express this commitment through optimism. Leadership emerges as someone expresses such confident commitment to a project that others want to share his or her optimistic expectations. Enthusiasm is contagious and effective leaders know it.


What is the difference between empathy and sympathy? Although the words are similar, they are, in fact, mutually exclusive. According to Norman Paul, in sympathy the subject is principally absorbed in his or her own feelings as they are projected into the object and has little concern for the reality and validity of the object's special experience. Empathy, on the other hand, presupposes the existence of the object as a separate individual, entitled to his or her own feelings, ideas and emotional history (Paul, 1970). As one student so eloquently put it, "It's nice when a project leader acknowledges that we all have a life outside of work."


Simply put, to enlist in another's cause, we must believe that that person knows what he or she is doing. Leadership competence does not however necessarily refer to the project leader's technical abilities in the core technology of the business. As project management continues to be recognized as a field in and of itself, project leaders will be chosen based on their ability to successfully lead others rather than on technical expertise, as in the past. Having a winning track record is the surest way to be considered competent. Expertise in leadership skills is another dimension in competence. The ability to challenge, inspire, enable, model and encourage must be demonstrated if leaders are to be seen as capable and competent.

Ability to Delegate Tasks

Trust is an essential element in the relationship of a project leader and his or her team. You demonstrate your trust in others through your actions - how much you check and control their work, how much you delegate and how much you allow people to participate. Individuals who are unable to trust other people often fail as leaders and forever remain little more that micro-managers, or end up doing all of the work themselves. As one project management student put it, "A good leader is a little lazy." An interesting perspective!

Cool Under Pressure

In a perfect world, projects would be delivered on time, under budget and with no major problems or obstacles to overcome. But we don't live in a perfect world - projects have problems. A leader with a hardy attitude will take these problems in stride. When leaders encounter a stressful event, they consider it interesting, they feel they can influence the outcome and they see it as an opportunity. "Out of the uncertainty and chaos of change, leaders rise up and articulate a new image of the future that pulls the project together." (Bennis 1997) And remember - never let them see you sweat.

Team-Building Skills

A team builder can best be defined as a strong person who provides the substance that holds the team together in common purpose toward the right objective. In order for a team to progress from a group of strangers to a single cohesive unit, the leader must understand the process and dynamics required for this transformation. He or she must also know the appropriate leadership style to use during each stage of team development. The leader must also have an understanding of the different team players styles and how to capitalize on each at the proper time, for the problem at hand.

Problem Solving Skills

Although an effective leader is said to share problem-solving responsibilities with the team, we expect our project leaders to have excellent problem-solving skills themselves. They have a "fresh, creative response to here-and-now opportunities," and not much concern with how others have performed them. (Kouzes 1987)

Bennis, W., 1997. "Learning to Lead," Addison-Wesley,MA.
Kouzes, J. M: "The Leadership Challenge," Jossey-Bass Publishers, CA.
Norman: Parental Empathy. Parenthood, Little, Brown, NY.

Don't forget to leave your comments below

Timothy R. Barry is a trainer and consultant for ESI International with more than 20 years of experience in project management. He has worked with over 40 major organizations worldwide .With over 20 years experience, ESI International is the world's largest Project Management Training and Consulting provider. A comprehensive mix of project management, E-training, tailored corporate courses, consulting, assessment and mentoring means they are able to provide their clients with proven methods that enable them to achieve their goals. To put ESI International's Project Management Solutions to work for your company, or for more information, call +44 (0)20 7915 5099 or visit the website at

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+1 # Ganapathy Subramanian 2010-02-24 12:43
Thanks for your efforts Tim in collating this list and sharing with us. I cannot agree more with the list. I am trying to help managers in India acquire these qualities through Management Scholars Academy, my new training venture. As part of it I am also actively blogging here - Ganapathy
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+1 # Tim Eiler 2010-02-25 00:37
The only additional thing I'd add is Appropriate Situational Flexibility; knowing when to hold the line and when to allow situationally-s pecific change in order to make progress without damaging consistency.
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+3 # sonia 2011-04-11 18:09
very nice,simple language article,made me clear about leader's qualities
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0 # mega star 2017-03-16 11:02
Nice name i like your name sonia
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0 # Anand 2011-11-02 19:43
Thanks for the above, Timothy, I agree with most of the above Qualities.
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0 # Baker 2011-11-05 22:04
Barry Posner should also be given due credit for "The Leadership Challenge".
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+2 # osaretin 2012-01-04 04:41
great article, thanks to the collating team
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+2 # Ewan Obazee 2012-01-23 23:06
Thank you very much. this was very useful. Ewan
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+1 # Ahmed 2012-01-24 15:34
Hi. Thanks for all above requirements for the leaders also are advantage for me as a student thnks alot
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+1 # Tich 2012-02-25 02:05
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+4 # S.N.Choudhary 2012-03-19 20:30
I have been working in Indianoil corporation LTD,India-a global Fortune 500 Company and handling projects for the last 26 years,magnitude varying upto 4.0 billion US4 single project.While many points have been covered,the leadership in projects require high level of social skills and risk management ability so that the morale of the team stay lofted at all times.Project leader should imbibe an art and science to develop intrinsic motivation among team members so that during the.time of setback when the team members are not able to achieve the desired milestone which always happens in project,they are glued to the task with renewed srategy.Moreove r, project requires strategic type of leadership qualities. Project leaders having other types of leadership qualities as available like Diplomat,indivi dualistic,alche mistetc will not be a result oriented leader.
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+1 # Jawad Mirza 2012-05-19 12:31
Important point covered in a simple language.
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0 # Apeh Sunday 2012-06-08 19:50
This is a great job. Tim Eiler's addition is another good thought. I have a good use of this as a student.
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-1 # suneel 2012-07-01 06:29
how can we develop creativity and technical skills
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-1 # raja VB 2012-07-04 07:56
Fascinating artical and sharing. Absolutely right. PMs can not do illieterate things and say that is project management. 60% of Project managers in India can not do anything except filling temlates and milestone figures.

Either they do not get empowerment from management or they have no guts to assert and MAKE A DIFFERENCE.
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0 # BAIAKMEN CHALLAM 2012-07-05 13:24
this requirement above its interesting... thank you.... its useful
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0 # Nimesh Doshi 2012-07-06 02:24
Excellent article- quite simple but highly effective
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0 # Kasun Perera 2012-07-14 11:19
This post was really helpful for me to do my PM 's really good!!!
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+2 # mushtaque ahmed 2012-08-11 05:43
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0 # Prince Das 2012-08-22 09:10
Thanks a lot.
Really it helps me to learn. Simple and good for Understanding.
It will helps me in my career.
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0 # Halimat Jibril 2012-11-10 21:40
Great article. I found it very useful.
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-1 # RAMS 2012-11-23 03:31
Very useful article to me.
Thank you very much!
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-1 # MEKBIB 2012-12-10 02:07
it is a best material at a time i am leader of one woreda send to me literature.
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-1 # Samson 2013-01-22 08:12
Great article and very helpful; simple and to the point.
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+1 # Romeo 2013-01-24 05:54
wow! a smart one. indent and brief and precise.keep it up
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-1 # Joonlee 2013-02-23 12:21
Thank you Tim. This is an excellent list to review every now and then just to remind myself.
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0 # Iain Borner 2013-04-24 07:31
Great list. I could not agree more with this list. As a project manager, it is often the "soft skills" that can make the difference between project success and project failure.
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0 # Leyton 2013-04-24 21:12
Really glad to see 'Integrity' on the list. A lot of these types of articles miss than one. Then I also know more than my fair share of people who think that's a weakness. I just hope I'm nowhere in their vicinity when karma hits! :-)
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0 # Tijani 2013-05-05 11:36
Thank you for this piece of publication, it really help me grab ideas
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+2 # Eraina Rivera, MBA 2013-06-25 15:51
All of these skills are essential for the PM. Applicable to effectively managing and controlling the triple constraint across the lifecycle of the project, we must also emphasize the significance of adaptability and understanding the processes, actions and behaviors requisite of driving such changes mid project. This helps to define the leadership of the PM, while keeping the project on track and the stakeholders confident that the means to ends and residual impact of such leadership will deliver the intended benefits and value. Overall, the PM leadership should embody the following "101" philosophy, " proper planning prevents poor performance"... effective communication, and contingencies derived from lessons learned!
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-1 # Alemgena Rta 2013-08-23 07:58
Thanks for this piece of peblication and using simple English to understand.
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-1 # Henry 2013-09-07 11:51
I believe this will help me in my career
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0 # Sar Al-B 2013-11-20 21:40
Thank you, this really helped me with my course! :)
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-2 # jamzeeth 2014-01-27 12:39
thank u so much its very help full me thank u again
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-1 # Fazlan Mohammed Fale 2014-02-12 22:45
Thank you so much, its very help full me.
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-1 # denyalkoch 2014-03-10 05:56
The project leader is also the team's link to the larger organization. The leader must have the ability to effectively negotiate and use persuasion when necessary to ensure the success of the team and project. Through effective communication, project leaders support individual and team achievements by creating explicit guidelines for accomplishing results and for the career advancement of team members.To get more information about event management institute.
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-1 # GODFREY VEDASTO 2014-03-23 04:17
Thank you for your inspiring guidelines for promoting effective leadership for sustaining the project. Failure of the project does not mean that the content of the project is bad but failure to recognize leadership skills trigger it. By Vedasto
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-1 # Umar Zulfiqar 2014-08-18 06:58
a perfectly written content
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-1 # nagina mali 2014-08-21 01:40
Its very helpful for review guidelines.than ks.
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-1 # bsmah 2015-03-08 08:59
it's very helpfull article and the langauge clear and simle...Thanks
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0 # Smithc627 2015-03-31 01:39
Hello There. I found your blog using msn. This is a really well written article. Ill make sure to bookmark it and return to read more of your useful information. Thanks for the post. I will definitely return. ggfafeeaaaebkkf a
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0 # Anbalagan 2016-01-08 23:56
In any accomplishment of an implementation the result is always expected at the beginning. It would be good that a Project Manager must always have futuristic and forward thinking to drive through the Project Flow
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+1 # Param Peketi 2016-01-23 17:47
Thank you for the list of leadership qualities. I would add other qualities like Accountability and Responsibility to lead the project deliverables and timelines. One other important aspect which I'm not sure to add to this article is - conflict management. Thx again, great job putting it together.
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0 # Nausad Ahmed 2016-06-11 12:21
Nice Points has been defined for Project Leader Quality.
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+2 # Acton Ace 2016-06-25 02:29
Informative one. Leadership is a quality that everyone should process. Being a leader is not cushy along with it comes responsibility and accountability. Leaders have the responsibilitie s to maximize the potential of the people with whom they graft & encouraging them to follow the wisdom of others. Leader should be honest and integrated in order to succeed and inspire others to follow them.

• Vision. A smashing leader must bring vision to life 4 that they must be future focused i.e. they must know, what is to be done, How it is to be done & For whom it is to be done. This can be done by casting their vision and ensuring that they have the right people in right place.
• Emotional Intelligence. Good leader is always wiser with people with whom they work with for this they must be well versed with Emotional Intelligence skills. True leader should know how to use power of other people emotions along with their own this will help them more productivity and collaboration which will help them to grow further.
• Effective Communication Skills. Savvy leaders are the one who is a mint listener, ask question and speaks if something is to be said. In leadership communication is a key, leader must be able to communicate with others but being a mint listener will surely going to help.
• Inspiring Gratitude, Personal Responsibility, and Sacrifice in your Corporation are essentials leadership at work.
Mr Chris Salamone formerly served as a faculty member at Loyola University Chicago School of Law and the National Institute of Trial Advocacy, and served as a leadership curriculum adviser at The University of Central Oklahoma. Chris Salamone works to improve the lives of young people around the world through his many philanthropic endeavors. He functions as chairman of the Lead America Foundation and extends a considerable amount of financial support to fund the education of 300 children in Haiti.
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-1 # Steven Reichenberg 2016-09-12 07:22
I agree totally with the these qualities, but have often stated to my teams that empathy is key. I have not seen/heard many others also say this. My perspective on empathy though focuses on the customer. The PM must understand and be empathetic toward the customer in order to understand real value.
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0 # Esan Gilbert 2016-10-05 13:31
I totally agreed with you Timothy with the top 10 leadership qualities, however, I will like to suggest that "Time management" which is a core function of value for money can as well be added, I know staying "cool under pressure" try to touch some aspect of it, but I think these qualities is very important for every PM and I will like if it's added, often said, most of my colleagues think empathy and sympathy are the same, I try in my little way to differentiate this, and what I used most times, is a little illustration, which is sympathy lay more emphasis on what that cannot be changed and attached too often emotion, while empathy profound solution by moving on.
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0 # ONYECHIE JOHN 2016-10-08 14:36
I agree with the listed leadership qualities of the PM but its very important for the PM to ensure the team members understand and delivers the project to the clients expectations/qu ality
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0 # Delarese Allen 2016-12-12 10:35
I appreciate the information shared, as it was very helpful to my understanding of being a good leader.
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0 # Khatir Nahar 2016-12-14 20:35
Very interesting article for projects management leader
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0 # Khatir Nahar 2016-12-14 20:38
Very interesting article
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0 # Khatir Nahar 2016-12-14 20:41
Very nices article
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0 # Khatir Nahar 2016-12-14 20:42
Very good
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0 # Khatir Nahar 2016-12-14 20:44
Very interesting article about projects management
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0 # Khatir Nahar 2016-12-14 20:45
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0 # Muhammad Razzaq Zia 2017-01-19 03:12
An excellent account of the traits that a leading project manager must possess.I happen to lead a project for the last 8 years from conception to actual deployment.I fully endrose the view point expressed in the article.
wish you all the best
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0 # keita 2017-01-23 07:41
perfect article but to implement this must a task we have fulfill as future next project manager.
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0 # Estuardo 2017-01-24 11:23
Excellent, amaze about what is requiered to actually perform first as a person, manager and then take care of the position of directiing a project...of course it will depend on the size of the project what qualities will have to show up.
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0 # M Bernard 2017-01-25 18:42
Great article, very refreshing!. To me communication would be on top. A project manager can have a great vision and able to inspire others, but if he/she cant communicate the vision and inspiration, it's no use to him/her.
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0 # Olga 2017-01-27 04:36
I'd add Agility to that list. Great Article. Thanks
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0 # Jesus 2017-01-28 10:53
Great article, in my experience the role for project manager often is limited to manage toward the business side, leaving to the technical leader the responsibility of the team. I believe it's important that the project manager has communication with all the team, not only with the client.
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0 # Selophine N 2017-01-29 09:29
Great article written in simple day to day language.
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0 # Germaine I 2017-01-29 19:17
Very well written article, informative and easy to understand
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+2 # Anne 2017-01-30 15:50
Tim another important aspect to Project Management is the politics of working with the Sponsor and/or Client Manager. The success of the project is client acceptance. If the client is repeatedly changing their mind about the scope, deliverables, requirements then the project is in trouble. Therefore another important PM characteristic is garnering confidence. Influencing and persuading the client. If things go wrong they have to feel confident that the PM can fix it.
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0 # Carlos 2017-02-05 04:11
Good point, thanks for the addition. It's something that a leader has to keep in mind.
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0 # Abu Suffian Kamara 2017-01-30 15:52
A good projective must have proper accountability.
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0 # dmo 2017-02-06 07:26
well thought and researched. usefull alot
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0 # Bud Lush 2017-03-16 14:19
Nice balance Timothy Barry... I do a 2 Day Strategy Execution session... I will ensure my class are referred to your list ... Nice work
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