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Which of These Leadership Traits Do You Demonstrate?

A March 2016 HBR article shared the results of the first round of a research study conducted by Dr. Sunnie Giles, which focused on identifying a short list of key leadership competencies. The study involved the participation of 195 leaders from 30 organizations in 15 countries.

The article provides examples of how these competencies can be demonstrated by executives or functional managers. Project managers are equally responsible for exhibiting these behaviors so here are some ideas on how each of the top ten traits can be applied within the project management context.

Has high ethical and moral standards

As a project manager, you have the responsibility to act with integrity and fairness in your dealings. Your behavior sets the standard by which your team members will operate. If you are a member or credential holder with PMI, this privilege comes with the requirement to follow the PMI Code of Ethics. Beyond the impacts your actions have on your project stakeholders, if you compromise these standards you are also damaging the credibility and reputation of the project management profession.

Related Article: Collaborative Leadership: Managing in the Matrix

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Provides goals and objectives with loose guidelines and direction

You must ensure that your team members have a clear understanding of what a project’s expected outcomes are and why the organization is investing in it. However, this shouldn’t be mistaken as permission to micro-manage the team’s work. While you do need to monitor and control performance, the emphasis should be on encouraging your team to come up with the most efficient and effective means of achieving the project’s objectives while removing hurdles from their path.

Clearly communicates expectations

In functional or weak matrix organizations, you might have limited or no formal input into the performance evaluation of team members. In spite of this, if you don’t effectively set expectations with them as part of their onboarding to your team, you shouldn’t be surprised when issues arise. Once again, I am not giving you carte blanche to dictate every step of how their work should be performed. You should make it clear what your needs are as far as reporting and control and then help the team to develop as a set of practices which will fit their working style while still meeting your requirements.

Has the flexibility to change opinions

You have to make a number of decisions over the course of any project, but one of the attributes of a good project manager is the ability to help team members and other stakeholders lift their heads out of the sand if they are affected by tunnel vision. Increased stress levels cause people to narrow their focus so this is where mindfulness techniques can help you get some perspective and redirect the energy of the team.

Is committed to my ongoing training

Successful project management is not just about reaching a destination – the journey is equally important. If you don’t take the time to learn what the development objectives are of your team members, you aren’t fully answering the WIIFM question for why they should commit their efforts to your project.

Even if the scope of the project is virtually identical to multiple projects they’ve contributed to in the past, you can still provide them with stretch opportunities to help their further development. And when it comes time for them to leave the project, act as a champion for their development objectives with their people managers.

Communicates often and openly

More than 90% of your time will be spent communicating, and ineffective communications have frequently been identified as a contributor to project failure – enough said!

Is open to new ideas and approaches

As project managers, we are on the pointy end of change, but it’s amazing how often we are unwilling to consider an alternate approach to an issue or decision. One of the quickest ways to stifle the creativity of your team will be to take the “my way or the highway” approach – it won’t take too long for them to realize that their ideas aren’t really being considered.

Strive for an eclectic set of skills and backgrounds when negotiating for team members – the greater the diversity, the greater the likelihood of unique solutions.

Creates a feeling of succeeding and failing together as a team

Although your team members come from different departments that doesn’t mean they won’t be looking for the opportunity to connect and form bonds with peers from other areas of the organization. Helping to create those connections and focusing on team building efforts throughout the project’s lifetime will increase the likelihood that your team members will act in the best interests of the team and the organization as a whole.

Helps me grow into a next-generation leader

Every interaction with our team members provides the opportunity to coach them and encourage the development of their own leadership skills. My own interest in the profession was sparked by a project manager who “walked the talk” that the role is more than just tools and techniques. How you conduct yourself in challenging situations will make a lasting impression on your team.

Provides safety for trial and error

If your project microcosm reflects the fear of failure culture of your organization, creativity and efficiency suffer as team members stick to tried-and-true approaches and frequently employ wasteful CYA techniques to shield themselves from the consequence of failure. You are in the best position to create a working environment where your team members can afford to fail fast, learn from their failures and succeed.

Developing leadership competencies such as these will not only raise your profile within your company but will provide a good standard of behavior for the stakeholders whom you work with.

As with quality, elevating organizational capability is everyone’s responsibility.

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