Project managers’ success is a result of practicing both strong management skills and effective leadership skills. To ensure success in achieving these goals through projects and programs, organizations need project/program managers who are also effective leaders. What are these leadership skills? Are project management skills not enough? 

The two sets of skills differ in the development process. Management skills are strengthened through experience and practice, whereas leadership skills can be learned, and leadership qualities can be developed. The key to being an effective leader is developing new leadership skills that complement the skills of those who made them successful managers. 

Being effective project managers does not mean we are effective leaders. Understanding the difference between project management and leadership and working towards being an effective leader, project managers can successfully utilize their innovative and creative skills to assist them in developing leadership skills that will complement their project management abilities. 

Differences Between Project Management and Leadership 

If you are reading this, chances are you know what the roles and responsibilities are of a project manager. 

The latest edition of the A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide)—Seventh Edition (Project Management Institute [PMI], 2021) defined project management as the application of knowledge, skills, tools and techniques to project activities to meet the project requirements. The PMBOK® Guide—Seventh Edition (2021) defined the standard project management framework and provides guidance to best practices in project management. 

Charles M. Cadwell summarized definitions of leadership as developed by leadership experts John P. Kotter, John W. Gardner, and Peter F. Drucker. John P. Kotter (1988), of the Harvard Business School, as the process of moving a group of followers in some direction through mostly non-coercive means and producing movement in the long-term best interests of the group. John W. Gardner, a leadership expert who has been an advisor to four U.S. presidents, defined leadership as the process of persuasion or example by which an individual induces a group of followers to pursue common objectives. Peter F. Drucker, an internationally known author on leadership, defined a leader as one who has followers. He says that regardless of a leader’s own individual abilities or greatness, there can be no leaders without followers. 

Charles M. Cadwell summarized the difference between leaders and managers in the following chart. Cadwell says that “management skills provide a foundation for developing leadership skills. Effective leaders have the ability to apply the appropriate skill at the appropriate time and in the appropriate place.”

The Commonality Between Project Management and Leadership 

Aside from the differences between project management and leadership, there are commonalities between the two. The effectiveness of leadership and the performance of project managers are both measured by the performance of the followers and team. As a result, focusing on team performance is an important aspect of developing leadership skills for project managers. 

Another commonality between the two is what the followers bring. Having followers defines a leader. What else do followers bring? The success of a leader is determined by the performance of the followers. In a project environment, the project manager’s followers are the project team. 

Importance of Leadership in Project Management 

Working on multiple projects simultaneously is part of being a project-based firm. A leader is an essential part of delivering these projects within time and budget to achieve success. Otherwise, you can expect delays, conflict, and lower productivity if there is a lack of active supervision. 

The responsibility is held by the project managers to guide the organizations to meet their long-term objectives through successful styles of leadership in project management. Leaders define the project scope, planning, execution and monitoring. They also facilitate team collaboration, communicate with stakeholders continuously, manage finances and mitigate potential risks. Managers also serve as the subject matter experts who regularly evaluate project quality and initiate necessary steps to meet the deliverables. 

Project success rates have improved over the last few years as a result of project management professionals using the best practices in project and program management. They have mastered implementing project management methodologies, leveraging advancement in technologies applied in useful project management and team collaboration tools and techniques. 

Although there has been improvement in success rates and technologically advanced tools and techniques for team productivity, organizations today still have many complex challenges to face in setting and achieving their goals—one being the lack of leadership in the organization. 

Leadership in Project Management 

Leadership in project management plays a critical role in the success of the project. It can be explained through the Project Leadership Matrix which highlights the leadership style of a person based on their individual personality traits in four quadrants.

Both the reactive and proactive approaches have their own set of pros and cons because one cannot possibly foresee all risks to mitigate them 100% of the time. Therefore, those who can balance both styles of leadership in project management have a better chance of success based on individual situations. 

Leadership Skills in Project Management 

The most essential leadership skills for the project manager start with motivating and inspiring teams and individuals—negotiating and communicating skills, listening and influencing skills, and team-building with emphasis on improving team performance. 

Leaders develop a vision and then continually communicate that vision throughout the organization, working with the team to achieve the vision. They keep their people enthusiastic in doing their work and focused on the project vision and encourage the team members to do their best to accomplish the work with full self-satisfaction for making their contribution towards the project vision. Leaders help the team members help each other, as they make their individual and group contributions toward achieving the project goals. 

Leaders get the team members and project stakeholders to work effectively with one another, considering all parties with shared or opposed interests, with intent to compromise before reaching a team decision. Leaders create a project environment where team members can be honest and open in communicating with each other, understanding each team member’s communication style, and be able to communicate effectively with project stakeholders. 

Leaders are active listeners, understanding and considering the team members’ perspectives before making team decisions that will affect the team. They get project team members and other stakeholders to collaborate and cooperate with each other, working towards a common goal.