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Breaking down leadership in projects: the skills you need so projects succeed

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Leadership is a challenging space to get right no matter what role you are fulfilling. In project management the environments are usually temporary and high impact meaning the leadership challenge is intensified. Being a leader is a key part of being a project manager, and as project managers, we are “responsible for providing vision, direction, feedback and support so people can do their best work,” APM Body of Knowledge, 7th edition   

There is an even split between these skills because we must maintain an equal level of focus on each section constantly. OK, so the likelihood is some will need more attention at times, however recognising the importance of each area is a good start, right?

We must deliver projects by ensuring: 

  • Vision: The energy and belief is aligned with everyone on the project creating huge forward momentum, generated by a strong sense of purpose delivered by the vision. 
  • Direction: The confidence from all stakeholders in the direction of the project is high, this is delivered by strong direction. There is a lot of this work out there to support structure on projects both at product and function level. 
  • Feedback: The ability we, project managers, must have to be direct and honest with our project management teams, and keep wider stakeholders in focus to deliver speed of achievement on projects. 
  • Support: There is balance from everyone participating on projects and support to achieve that must be high. This will mean maximum individual wellbeing and sustainability. 


This is where we build our energy, our motivation if you will. This will pull us through the tough time and ensure we deliver the best results required. 

Imagine you had some cupboards to put up. If you were told to do it by a boss, think of how you’d proceed - loads of questions right? Now imagine you were putting it up for yourself at home. Would that change anything? Now imagine you are part of some immense relief effort improving the quality of life for thousands of people. Does anything change? 

The activity is always the same but adjusting the purpose brings a greater degree of energy, resilience and proactivity. This is why vision is so important. Find the best reason for doing anything and it will help raise the energy, proactivity and resilience on projects. 


We need to make sure we are confident in taking things forward; this way we do our best work. 

There is plenty of advice, guidance and structure out there optimising the way we direct projects (for example, ‘Plan, Do, Review’ ‘SMART’, Prince2, agile, etc). However, the bottom line is that we must feel confident in our way forward and remember each way forward is unique to the situation, environment and individuals involved. To achieve your best work, you need to understand the basics of who’s doing what and when, the deliverables, how it contributes to the vision, and everything being time optimised. 

Structure in the way forward is essential to bring assurance that things will progress smoothly and allow us to feel confident. By having direction, we increase the likelihood of maintaining our best work and improving. 


We need to make sure the right conversations are happening as early as possible to aid reflection, adjustment and enhancements benefiting the projects we are working on as quickly as we can. If we aren’t then we just delay the inevitable. 

Creating a psychologically safe space where everyone feels comfortable sharing thoughts, ideas, emotions, feelings, intuitions, etc as and when they occur is a very difficult thing to achieve. As project managers, we must work on opening up feedback channels by highlighting how important it is, and how to communicate any ideas, thoughts and feelings within the project environment. Suggestions boxes, open dialogue, 1:1s all are vehicles to tap into, however they’re only as useful as how comfortable and safe people feel being entirely direct. 

Giving feedback with no restraint is a huge reflection of how safe (or desperate) someone is. It‘s essential we value everyone and everything around us. We can only do this by understanding the nature of thoughts, ideas, opinions, emotions, etc and creating psychological safety. Start with yourself and remember, getting into a place where you can receive any direct communication is a journey.  


We all need to be in the greatest head spaces to do our best work. We need to accept we will make mistakes and we will get distractions. It’s how we balance that allows us to continually deliver our best work. 

Start by accepting only the best work happens when people are in great places. If people are in ‘OK’, ‘average’ or ‘poor’ spaces the outcomes reflect that. Make sure you constantly reinforce this and encourage people within your projects to prioritise themselves and help them find their balance. 

Remember to prioritise yourself too! Be honest with yourself and prioritise being in a good place. Reflect, could things be going better, how? Start implementing if possible. Are you tired? Are you hungry? Are you getting frustrated? It’s OK to be passionate, have structure and develop psychological safety but let’s face it if we aren’t in a good space we won’t do our best work, will we? Prioritise you and everyone being in a great space for sustainable projects. 

Quick tips for better leadership: 

  • Set a clear, energy driving, vision aligning and bringing teams together. Best done involving as many stakeholders as possible. 
  • Question the way forward and make sure it is the best way forward for you, the situation and the environment.  
  • Prioritise you and everyone around you to be in the best space possible with useful feedback and honest support. 
  • Start by understanding that anything and everything that occurs to people is driven by the necessity to improve our own environments and therefore essential in a project management setting. 
  • Never let emotions dictate behaviours, emotions are inevitable, so seek to understand why and how it ties to what you are trying to achieve.  

  • Remember to prioritise feeling good, because if we do, we get the best results for longer. The moment we start working in a ‘bad mood’, bad things happen! 

Read more about project team management and leadership  


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