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Top Traits of Successful Project Leaders

As we kick off 2010, it seems appropriate to consider how to “start on the right foot”. After all, in 2009, many businesses were suffering in the recession and searching for cash flow; thus, many projects went on hold. However, in order to thrive in 2010, it will become critical to get in front of the competition and put in extra effort on key business projects. One fail-proof way to achieve these goals is to ensure the best project leaders are focused on the core projects.

In my experience in working across multiple industries and with many different Executives, leadership is the number one key to project success. I’ve seen mediocre projects succeed with excellent leadership while sure-to-succeed projects fail due to a lack of leadership. Thus, finding and keeping the best project leaders is critical. What are the top traits of successful project leaders? Project leaders do the following:

  1. Set Direction. As with all leaders, it is vital for project leaders to set direction. It is the leader’s responsibility to develop the strategy and communicate it clearly and repeatedly to the project team and throughout the organization. There is a huge difference in a project team with a clear direction where everyone knows how they fit in and how they contribute value, than in the ones where the project leader might know it, but everyone else sees only their small piece of the puzzle – not the value of their “small piece” or how the bigger picture will be achieved.
  2. Manage the Critical Path with Rigor. There’s no doubt that the single best way to accelerate project results is to manage the critical path with rigor. In essence, the definition of a critical path is the sequence of project tasks which add up to the longest overall duration. Thus, managing the critical path is what will have the most significant affect in accelerating the project’s progress and achieving the results. I’ve found that proactively managing the critical path is the optimal approach. In other words, ask the owners of the critical path tasks in advance if they see any roadblocks to achieving their task. Remind them of approaching due dates. Offer assistance. In essence, prioritize and focus most of your attention of the critical path tasks.
  3. Listen and Provide Feedback. Lastly, they listen. Think about the leaders that stand out in the crowd. Do they take the time to listen to their project team members, customers, suppliers, and investors? Where do they spend the majority of their time – isolated in the executive suites or interacting with people? As a leader, don’t worry about what you want to say – ask a few provocative/thought-provoking questions; then be quiet and listen. What could be more important to succeeding in the new global economy than listening to the experts – the people who perform the jobs, the people on your team, the people you partner with in your supply chain (customers/ suppliers), etc?

Many leaders cite the saying that “people are your number one asset”, but their actions show differently – people pay attention to what they see, not what they hear. If the right people are your number oneasset, what could be more important than listening to your employees, spending time to jointly set goals, establishing metrics to track progress towards the goals, communicating their value to the organization (how they fit into the big picture), and providing ongoing and timely feedback (both positive and corrective)?

If your project leader has these three traits, there’s no doubt you’ll achieve RESULTS. In today’s economy, those who can outpace their competition with solid results will be those who “win the race”.

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