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Project Managers Need Leadership Skills

~ By Gina Abudi

Blue leadership compass

Yes, if you are a project manager you really need leadership skills! Today's project managers must have leadership skills in order to effectively perform their roles in the organisation and stand out from the crowd. Something must make you distinct from the others, especially if you are currently job searching or worried about your job security given the current economy.

While this has certainly always been the case; it is even more important today in an economy where project managers (PMs) are being asked to do more with less, reduced budgets for their projects, fewer resources available to work on the projects, and reduced timelines to get the products/services to market, in order to ensure their organisations remain competitive in a global economy.

Without a doubt, PMs who are not well-versed in technical skills (such as Earned Value Management,¹ quantitative risk analysis or estimating activities) cannot perform their role effectively. And certainly, without a working knowledge of the Project Management Body of Knowledge² (PMBOK), PMs will be unable to acquire their Project Management Professional³ (PMP) certification. Additionally, in a world where there are many people running around with the "project manager" title, a PMP certification is one way to stand out from the crowd. However, that alone may not be enough. Strong project management technical skills and PMP certification is not sufficient for those project managers aspiring to take on more responsibilities. Project managers cannot effectively compete with so many other certified PMs unless they have more than technical skills in their toolboxes. Project managers' long-term success and potential for growth are limited if they do not possess the necessary critical skills. For example, how effective can PMs be in their roles if they do not possess teaming skills, are not effective at influencing others, cannot communicate or present effectively, or are unable to see the "big picture?" Realistically, they can't be very effective.

Therefore, leadership skills are, without a doubt, a requirement for PMs. For example, it is difficult to lead global teams comprised of individuals with different personal goals/objectives and varied cultural backgrounds if you do not have essential leadership skills. Again, I can't emphasise enough that technical skills is not sufficient, it is just not possible for project managers to get the job done solely with strong technical skills. To progress in the organisation, you need to show strong leadership skills also. A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide), 4th Edition (2008, Project Management Institute), in Appendix G, notes particular interpersonal skills that PMs must have in order to be effective in their role that are:

  • Leadership
  • Team building
  • Motivation
  • Communication
  • Influencing
  • Decision making
  • Political and cultural awareness
  • Negotiation

And, other skills that are important for individuals leading project teams include:

  • Coaching
  • Conflict management
  • Developing/motivating/inspiring others
  • Time management/priority setting
  • Problem solving
  • Presentation skills
  • Establishing goals/delegating

All of these interpersonal and leadership skills are needed so that project managers can effectively manage any size project they are leading.

Project managers who can demonstrate competence in these skills increase the success of the projects they lead and demonstrate their value to the organisation, above and beyond their ability to create a Work Breakdown Structure or a Risk Management Plan.

One PM I have spoken with commented that his strength in understanding the big picture behind a project and conveying that vision to his project team and others in the organisation led to him being involved in the decision-making process around which projects would be completed in a given year. Here is someone who obviously stood out to the executives as bringing value to an important strategic planning process.

Another PM said her ability to problem solve effectively by really understanding the issues made her a valuable resource within the organisation, not just on project teams. She was often called upon to address complex problems within the organisation.

These skills noted above in addition to strategic leadership skills, such as strategic planning and change management, help project managers be viewed as key individuals within the organisation, someone with the potential to move up through the ranks and take on a senior leadership role.

And let's not forget some other important skills to have, including:

  • Ability to work with others
  • Ability to think ahead, foresee potential issues, risks, etc
  • A sense of humour (often needed when times get tense and the workload seems impossible!)
  • Ability to manage logistics
  • Strong organisational skills

A project manager with a combination of strong project management technical skills and relevant leadership and other important skills will find him/herself in a position of strength within their organisation and a valuable resource overall. These are the project managers you want to work with on projects and the individuals that the executive team looks to as high potentials within the organisation.

Are you one of these project managers? If not, how are you going to get there? Map out your personal plan for development.


¹ EVM = Earned Value Management a methodology for integrating scope, schedule, and resources to measure project performance and progress.

² PMBOK = Project Management Body of Knowledge. The PMBOK is the sum of knowledge within the profession of project management. The PMBOK Guide is the subset of the Project Management Body of Knowledge that is generally recognised as good practice.

³ PMP = Project Management Professional Certification. A PMP is certified by the Project Management Institute (PMI).

Gina Abudi has over 15 years consulting experience in a variety of areas, including project management, process management, leadership development, succession planning, high potential programmes, talent optimisation and development of strategic learning and development programmes. She is Partner/VP Strategic Solutions at Peak Performance Group, Inc. in Gloucester, Massachusetts. She has been honoured by PMI as one of the Power 50 and has served as Chair of PMI's Global Corporate Council Leadership Team. She has presented at various conferences on topics ranging from general management and leadership topics to project management. Gina received her MBA from Simmons Graduate School of Management.

Copyright © 2009-2010 Gina Abudi. All rights reserved.


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