What Leadership Skills Does a Project Manager Need?

Indu Sattiraju

UCSC Extension Project Leadership and Communication Student

If I were to ask you to shout out the single most important leadership skill that a Project Manager must possess, what would you say? Are you thinking about all the leaders you admire? What is the one skill that separates your favorite leaders from the ones that you detest?

While every leader has a unique leadership style, the single most outstanding skill that I am trying to get at is “People Skills”. Leadership involves interacting with people and hence this forms the foundation of an organization. This course has been a great learning experience so far and I am excited to share my perspective on this topic so let’s explore what are key project management leadership skills.

To recap, most important leadership skill is “People skill”.

Now, let’s talk about teams. Do all team members have the same personality or temperament? Do all team members speak the same language? Are they from the same cultural background? Do they have exact same career goals or interests? The answer is a glaring No! How can we as Project managers bring unity in diversity? The proper way to reduce variability of behavior is to have a clear vision and mission..This will help team members speak the “we” language versus “I”. Once these are identified, lay out a clear plan describing how it will be achieved.

To recap, have an inspiring vision and mission statement to unite the team’s goal

What comes next? Execution of project tasks. What causes teams to outperform or exceed expectations ? Organizational excellence is achieved when quality work is produced. This happens when right people do the right job. As project managers it is important for us to match a task with team member’s skills/interests.  As described in the textbook ‘Project Leadership’ by James Lewis – ask the 2 questions before choosing a leadership style:

  • Can the person do the job?
  • Will he/she take responsibility for it?

There is one more important ingredient to this recipe (how to make your teams outperform?)

That is inspiration and motivation.

An effective leader inspires the team by gaining their respect. And this is best done when the leader leads by example. There are several ways to motivate your team but, I will talk about my favorite – rewards & appreciationJ.. Encouraging the heart is paramount to a high performing team..  Words like Good job, excellent work are music to your team members’ ears! Remember to be genuine..

Are we forgetting something? What about communication skills? Remember not all your team members will be very vocal. As statistics state, 50% of the communication is unspoken or non verbal. Watch out for those cues to reach out to them:

  • Eye movements
  • Postures like closed arms
  • Cultural differences

Be flexible, be ready to handle conflict, and prepare to reach resolution.

One of my leaders at work describes true leadership as something that should make you feel exhausted as you need to sweat it out to make your team and organization WIN!


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