Managing a project is like trying to lead a ship to port. It takes a captain capable of weathering storms, keeping the morale of the crew up, being clear about the destination and route to follow and mastering the art of navigation. In short, in a project there must be a true leader and, therefore, leadership is one of the essential capabilities that must be present in a project manager, as indicated in our last post.
What is a leader?
Being appointed as head of a team doesn’t necessarily make a person stand as a leader. This recognition is only possible after this person has given proof of his or her ability and authority.
The leader, born or made?
Both are true, a leader is both born and made. No doubt there are people with the makings of leaders and with an innate ability to get to be followed by others for their charisma. However, it is also true that the main qualities of a leader are acquired as result of experience and training in the management functions to be developed.
What are the characteristics that define a “leader” project manager?
The main characteristics can be grouped into 3 key ones, depending on the area where they apply:
- Regarding the individual: those characteristics concerning the value of the leader as an expert and prepared professional.
- Experience in project management is essential to perform proper planning, identify potential project risks and face different situations that may occur.
- The knowledge and mastery of the main methodologies and tools for project management, and the technical particularities of the project to develop, allow earning authority based on respect and recognition. They make the leader to be regarded as an expert by the team.
- We can also include charisma among these characteristics, which, as mentioned above, is a quality that can hardly be learned or acquired. It is mostly an inborn personality trait.
- Regarding the group: characteristics that relate to the ability to manage people and build unity as a team leader.
- The relationship between the project manager and his team should be based on respect, mutual trust and honesty. The members must be informed in a clear and transparent way about the objectives of the project and its status. They should know the areas of responsibility that have been established, the expectations that the leader has placed in each of them and his assessment of their performance. Similarly, the leader must know what the team thinks of him and his management work.
- The head should feel like one more in the team. Only then, he will be able to get their place, understand the problems and, ultimately, have the necessary empathy with the group members.
- He must ensure that the group works as a real, coordinated and supportive team.
- Regarding third parties: characteristics about the way in which the leader exercises his role as representative of the project to third parties.
- At all times, a group must feel that their leader will defend their interests against other parties involved in the project.
- The sometimes-difficult balance between protecting the interests of the team, stakeholders and the project itself is one of the main challenges faced by a project manager and it is often a source of internal conflicts. The leader’s skills on properly managing this issue will largely define his or her recognition as a leader by everyone involved.
On top of all this we must add the probably most important characteristics of all “passion”. A leader has to have a passion about everything he or she does and has also to have the ability to show it; just like a captain must be able to get the ship’s crew follow him or her across the world, regardless of the storms to pass through and the oceans to cross.