Updated February 20, 2023
Role of a Project Leader
The project leader is a major stakeholder across any live project. This could be across a corporate workforce, a theater presentation, the opening of a new school, anything; these folks at the helm play a critical role in guiding the project towards successful completion.
So let us ask you, are YOU a successful project leader?
You’d be surprised at how many project leaders respond with an unsure, “Sure”.
Clearly, mere project management does not constitute success. When are they the rules to cracking a victorious stint with project leadership?
In this post, we give you 10 essential rules of a super successful project leader. Play by these golden rules, and you’re sure to transform into a winning leader on any project!
Essential Rules of a Project Leader
Different rules are mentioned below:
Lead with VISION
Yes, vision, the first golden factor that transforms a follower into a leader. Until you have a clear vision for your project, you will remain a confused follower.
A strong project leader is backed by an equally strong vision that helps you understand:
- WHAT you want to achieve through the project. This helps you gain thorough clarity on your goals so you can give them your undivided attention.
- WHY you want to achieve it, this empowers you with the conviction to last until the (successful) end.
- HOW you will achieve it. While you may not have the low-level details included here, your vision should still contain an adequate understanding of the where and when of your goal(s), paving the path for a solid project plan.
As renowned leadership author Jon Maxwell states, “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way and shows the way”. It is your complete vision that helps you understand your project well enough to lead it to glorious success.
Lead with INSPIRATION
Once you’ve laid down a grand vision, the next step is to develop the resources to fulfill it. Outstanding project leaders are able to consistently identify their most powerful resource: people. All other resources like money, time, knowledge, power, etc., pale in comparison to the vast energy the right people can bring to the project. Successful project leaders are also able to identify the one elevated virtue that enables you to pick the right people: Inspiration.
John Quincy Adams, an American leader, and statesman once proclaimed, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader!” He sure had his pulse on his people!
Inspiration is an incredibly infectious emotion. When you’re truly inspired by your project’s vision, the what, why, and how of it is easily communicated to others and draws forth like-minded individuals to your project. It’s an effortless way to build an equally inspired team!
The converse is also true.
So unless you’re incredibly enthusiastic, excited, and inspired by your vision, we’d advise you to hold on to lead others. Work on your own personal inspiration quotient first, and the rest will fall naturally in place.
Lead with OPEN Communication
Almost any project leader (even the mediocre ones) understands the significance of good communication. Here, we’ll ask you to take it a step further and lead with open communication.
Open communication is that fatal step where mediocre project managers fail. But it’s also the only way to build an inclusive team.
There’s a good reason you’ve got other people onboard your project. You correctly recognize that you simply cannot get it done all by yourself. We gently ask that you communicate in accordance with this.
This means that you:
- Communicate effectively to all stakeholders in the final vision.
- Stay open to their ideas, suggestions, concerns, and questions.
- Give yourself time and opportunity to consider these ideas, questions, etc.
- Close the loop with all stakeholders on your response, and collectively determine the next steps forward.
This is an iterative cycle, and every cycle works to strengthen communication.
Open communication also enables you to develop the right form of empathy. So even as you leave room in your project plans to factor suggestions from others, you continue to stay empowered knowing that you, the project leader, (rightfully) have the final say.
Lead with INTEGRITY to your vision
Integrity is that lofty virtue that helps you stay successfully on course with all elements of the vision.
As work progresses, a project leader may feel tempted to be drawn off-course as you focus on isolated parts of the project.
- Perhaps you focus too much on the WHAT and leave no room for expansion?
- Or you’re constantly re-inventing the WHY, soaking the project in confusion?
- Or you’re too worked up about the project plan, the HOW, and become dogmatic or even dictatorial in your approach?
But when you combine open communication with integrity, you will focus on all the important bits, even as you seamlessly tackle the challenges live projects can bring. With every challenge, you ask yourself, “Is this is in integrity with the final vision?”
You will then have the direction to renew other resources like time, money, people, etc., to support and align with the entire vision.
Lead with COMPETENCE and CONFIDENCE
At different points of the project, you may adapt varied leadership styles to manage your resources: inclusive, conclusive, passive, democratic, assertive, etc. But unless your approach is backed by both competence and confidence, you have the potential to alienate different segments of your people.
Amateur project leaders tend to mistake competence with confidence and vice versa. Well, we believe that they are indeed 2 sides of the same coin, with one subtle difference.
- With competence, you develop the knowledge and ability to do the job right.
- With confidence, you develop the ability to let go as you delegate and allow others to do it right.
With both, you are empowered to lead your project right.
Lead with COURAGE
Here’s a quote from the mighty Greek warrior, Alexander the Great: “I am not afraid of an army of lions led by a sheep; I am afraid of an army of sheep led by a lion”.
Alexander rightly recognized that leadership is not for the faint-hearted. It requires tremendous courage to stand up across a crowd and take ownership to reach the end, the successful end.
With integrity, a project leader is able to stay on course with the vision. But only with courage will you feel empowered to act right, even when the project or its resources move away from your vision.
- You are open to feedback and constructive criticism.
- You address conflicts head-on and retain your confidence even under pressure.
- You don’t shy away from taking (acceptable) risks.
- You use your competence and problem-solving skills to make tough decisions, knowing that they ARE right in the current situation.
With courage, you develop the bravado to constantly move the project in the right direction.
Lead with RESPONSIBILITY
Responsibility is a project leader’s unequivocal decision to positively empower a project’s possible at all times.
As a project leader, you are bound to face several challenges; heck, it is your leadership birthright!
As a mere manager, your focus may lay distracted by these challenges. But as a responsible project leader, you know well enough to expect challenges ahead. You’ve factored them into your plan and have decided that no matter what happens in the future, YOU take ownership of it and pave the way forward. With this attitude firmly in your project leadership toolkit, your focus constantly lies in finding resolutions for all challenges (rather than get into a pointless game of blame and defame).
You are able to keep the project at the center at all times as YOU clear the path to its completion.
Lead with an Eye for DETAIL.
If there’s one leader that any team member hates, it’s the micro-manager. The project leader knows this. Unfortunately, they often use this knowledge to give up way too much control and miss their eye for detail.
We’re going to keep it snappy as we quote Wayne Hedlund, a leader in Church who said, “Don’t expect what you don’t inspect”. It’s that simple.
As a project leader, do you:
- Keep all stakeholders up-to-date on project status?
- Proactively address potential risks and get consensus from stakeholders, so decision-making is quick and unanimous?
- Constantly look for opportunities to improve?
- Frequently (re)align all stakeholders and project members to the original vision?
- Take ownership for quantity and quality?
If you don’t take the responsibility to thoroughly inspect, participate and direct your project’s execution, you cannot expect the details to automatically fall in their right place. Hence, keeping your eye on details without micromanagement is indeed an art well learned by the seasoned project leader.
Leads well, WITH PEOPLE
Through the course of this post, we’ve stressed the importance of open communication with people. Yet, this rule is important enough for us to re-iterate again: A great project leader is also fantastically great with people.
No matter what terrible challenge falls on your path: insufficient budget, lack of time, technical glitches, etc., they can all be effortlessly overcome if you have your project people with you. But of course, this cannot happen overnight.
As Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the current president of Turkey, recently shared, “It is impossible to preserve my friendship with people who are alleged leaders, when they are attacking their own people, shooting at them, using tanks and other forms of heavy weaponry”. He may have made this quote in the political context, but the sentiment applies to project leadership too.
If we want the respect and support of our peers and our team, we must stand by them during trying times. And rest assured, there will be times when your project has the potential to turn into a “war-zone,” as teams with conflicting interests tear into each other to get the final vote. As a strong project leader, you remember to lead and deal with your people (peers, juniors, leaders – essentially all project members), through the entire course of the project, with integrity, empathy and deep friendliness.
That said, a balanced project leader is not a crowd-pleaser. He’s able to make tough decisions and communicate them without fear, even as he continues enjoying the support of his team. We’ve found that the key to doing this effectively is to lead from the front.
This means that you:
- Constantly challenge and push yourself outside the comfort zone.
- Do the same for your team; you can be a “demanding” but supportive boss.
- Put yourself on the line for your team.
- Take ownership of all failures (with responsibility), and share your wins and success with others.
When your team sees you consistently act in favor of people, they return your support with loyalty and better performance. This is a sure-fire technique to guarantee a project’s success.
Lead with COMMITMENT
There is but one last rule that all project leaders absolutely need to maintain in their leadership repertoire: complete commitment.
When you are completely committed to your project’s success, there is simply no other way out. You no longer perceive potential failures as “The End” but treat it as a mere pit-stop in your project’s journey. Your unequivocal commitment ensures that you continue to keep on going until you reach “The REAL End” with your project’s success.
This is especially important to remember when a project is shelved (for various authentic reasons). Perhaps the initial goal was not fully met. But even in this situation, a commanding project leader will set refined parameters for the project’s success and work to fulfill them. (Example: treat this as a prototype and capture the lessons learned for the next iteration, push for a successive iteration once resources are available to the project can indeed be completed, etc.)
As these rules are sure to have alerted you, Project leadership is also a wondrous journey to personal expansion and magnificence. Through this post, we’ve been highlighting the significance of guaranteeing your project’s success. But “success” can be an intangible concept. What makes success real for you?
We’ll leave you with one final quote from an awesome leader of our times, Henry Ford. As he famously noted, “Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is a success”.
Practicing this theory in your leadership style defines the true success of a winning project leader!
This has been a guide to the essential role of a Project Leader, which is easy to remember. You may also have a look at the following articles to learn more –