October 19, 2023

Leadership in Project Management: The Complete Guide

This is the complete guide on leadership in project management.

The cool thing about it?

It’s full of practical tips.


It fully comes from my practical experience in managing software development projects for nine years.

Here you’ll learn:

  • What is leadership in project management in practice?
  • How to lead without authority or title.
  • How to manage senior-level experts (even if you a junior PM).
  • What does a great project manager do to lead people?
  • How to build a strong team and honor commitments.

So, if you want to be a project manager that people love to work with, you’ll find tons of value in this guide.



Key Concepts of Leadership


How to Senior-Level Experts


How to Build a PM Team


Leadership Without Authority


The Best Project Manager


How to Get Commitment


Leadership In Project Management: What Does it Mean?

Let’s get clear on what does leadership in project management means.

As a project manager, you don’t force people to do the work.

You influence people in a positive way so that they feel the desire to follow your project management approach while doing their best to finish the assigned tasks.

Now, let’s break it down.

Leadership vs. Management is a Myth

I googled about leadership in project management. I was surprised to see how misleading the majority of search results are.

For me, Leadership is an integral part of project management.

Nevertheless, here is what you’ll find there:

In the article on ProjectManagement.com, there is a table showing the distinctions between manager and leader:

image is taken from projectmanagementcom site

Or here is another article on pmi.org. Here are just the headlines there:

  • “Leaders Seek Challenges; Managers Seek to Maintain the Status Quo.”
  • “Leaders Motivate and Inspire; Managers Control.”
  • “Leaders Have a Wide Circle of Influence; Managers Have Limited Influence.”

Again you’ll see clear opposing of management versus leadership.

So, what’s wrong?

I understand that being a leader is more appealing than being a project manager.

However, leadership cannot substitute project management. It can only enhance it.

Don’t fall into a trap of shiny leadership. You need both: leadership and hard skill of project management:

Project Management describes the WHAT to do. While Leadership gives an option on HOW to do it.

There’s even more to it:

What Does Leadership in Project Management Mean?

There is a long list of buzz words related to leadership:

  1. Integrity
  2. Consistency
  3. Vision
  4. Empathy
  5. Calm under pressure
  6. Team Builder
  7. Competent
  8. Decision Maker

4 Examples of Project Management Leadership

However, what does it mean in practice? What should a project manager do specifically?

Let’s give these buzzwords a context:

1. Encourage Continuous Improvement

There’s only one person truly responsible for continuous improvement.

That’s you – the project manager.

Others are responsible for their zone of expertise, for their tasks. But someone needs to improve the whole system.

In short, Continuous Improvement is a desire to do everything better even if nobody’s watching.

Don’t confuse it with gold plating. The goal is not to deliver more but to deliver more efficiently.

And here, you’ll need integrityconsistency, and a vision of how to make it happen.

Moreover, you will have to lead by example. Otherwise, no one’s buying it.

What’s more important, you’ll have to get into conflicts a lot. No one likes changes.

2. Motivation is Your Responsibility

The team’s motivation is a part of the Develop Project Team process.

But again, it is not about motivating people to come to the office every day.

A simple paycheck works well enough for that.

As a project manager, you need more. You want them to put their soul and heart into the work they do. You want them to develop professionally.

You’ll need to develop a vision of a perfect team member, personal development, and a desire to push beyond the call of duty.

You’ll need to build a strong team in general.

3. You Need to Create a Project Management Plan

Project Management Plan looks like a bureaucracy. Nevertheless, it’s a tool for mass leadership.

Also, like with Continuous Improvement, it’s something that only you can do.

You have at least two options:

  1. Do it so no one is angry.
  2. Do it so that the majority is happy.

In the Plan, you need to cast your vision in regard to the work on this project. You should show your attitude towards helping them achieve their goals.

You can show your consistency if you treat your team member the same way as the project sponsor. In the long run, you show integrity – if you help them to reach their objectives.

4. Be at the Spearhead of Conflict Resolution

It is leadership in its essence:

  1. You need to know people.
  2. You must be aware of the problems.
  3. You need to show empathy.
  4. You need to make decisions.

The most important part here:

You should always resolve a conflict to an end. AND you should do it ethically and professionally.

Unresolved conflicts show a lack of self-awareness.

In the process, you need to communicate a lot.

Leadership Varies with Project Management Effort

Depending on the context of a project, you may need different aspects of leadership or even none of them.

For example, consider these cases:

  1. A very large project
  2. A project with high uncertainty
  3. An innovation project (R&D)

These projects will heavily rely on your leadership skills.

On the other hand, imagine you have two projects. The first is a really big one. The second is just a small team for a short time.

Will you put an equal amount of leadership effort into both of them?

The bottom line is:

Leadership in project management is a tool that you need to apply understanding the benefits.

The Main Takeaways

This list can go on and on.

However, I want you to understand the key principles:

  1. Leadership is an integral part of project management.
  2. Leadership doesn’t substitute processes. It enhances them.
  3. Leadership on its own is no more than a fancy conversation.
  4. Leadership is the responsibility of a Project Manager. It is not an extra set of skills.


Leadership Without Authority And 5 Tips That Will Win Your People

In this chapter, we’ll talk about cases where you need to apply leadership without authority.

For example, you come to a new job or start a new project.

Or you get into a group of peers. Or on a weekend, you become a volunteer for a local community.

The problems are always the same.

“How to win the disposition of a person or even a group.”

The truth of the solution is simple:

You don’t need to apply any complicated tricks or analyze personalities.

What we are going to discuss here applies to any situation when you need to lead without authority or title.

There’s one important thing to keep in mind:

At work, you rarely start with no authority at all. Your position and the job title give you some amount of power by default.

But it works strictly on the areas of your expertise.

So, if you are a project manager assigned to a software development project, you are an authority in project management.

Don’t try to take up leadership over the group of developers at once. Start from the areas you are familiar with.

So, here are five tactics you should always apply when you don’t have an official leadership title or direct authority.

1. Never Ignore the Power of Handshakes

Studies show that physical contact, like a handshake, helps build a connection with a person. Moreover, it makes them happy on a biological level.

We trust and like people with a firm handshake.

“We found that it not only increases the positive effect toward a favorable interaction, but it also diminishes the impact of a negative impression.”

– Dr. Sanda Dolcos

So, the trick is simple:

In the morning, make a quick round around the office and shake a hand with your team members.

But there is a catch!

It might be frustrating if you do this at midday when everyone is busy.

It works better in the morning before people get to the first pressing task. If you are coming late, keep it to the moment when you can talk personally.

But don’t ignore the power of the first meeting. Welcome a person and shake his hand even at midday.

What about the girls?

Don’t be a sexist. They like handshakes the same way as men.

If, for some reason, they avoid a handshake, high five works like a charm. Just slap your palms gently and you’ll see a genuine smile on her face.

It works even better combined with the second tactic.


2. Learn and Use Their Names

There’s no other such thing people love to hear as their names.

It’s another proven fact.

“Using a person’s name is crucial, especially when meeting those we don’t see very often. Respect and acceptance stem from simple acts such as remembering a person’s name and using it whenever appropriate.”

– Dale Carnegie

Do learn the names of your team members as soon as possible. And learn to spell it correctly.

Now, whenever appropriate, use the peoples’ names. Especially in the morning combined with a handshake.

In an office, it also works great when you know the name of a person you DID NOT meet before.

“You are John? I’m Dmytro, glad to meet you at last.” And you have just won a person.

3. Apply Strategic Small Talks

“Hi, Corwin!” Dmytro said, entering the elevator.

“Hi, Dmytro, how was your weekend?” Corwin replied, trying to start a usual small talk. “Oh, good. It was nice. And how about you?”

“Yeah, it was good.” Said Corwin without finding what else to say. They both waited in uncomfortable silence.

That’s how a bad small talk looks like. It dies without even starting.

How do you gain valuable leverage of motivation and leadership from a routine courtesy?

Never answer with a close-ended or simple sentence

It should never be an “OK,” “It was good”, or something similar. You need to tell a short and exciting story.

Share a bit of your personal and out-of-office life. Even if you spent weekends with family at home, there should be something interesting to tell about.

The goal is to encourage your interlocutor to tell a similar story beyond a mundane “OK.”

Here’s the catch:

Do listen carefully if he or she speaks. Because it’ll be something the person wants to share. It’s important.

If you heard something that did not end in that story, remember it. Next time you will be able to show that you listened to the person and you care. Just ask about it again later.

For example, he told you about his dog and the training they are taking. Ask about the progress in a week.

I promise you, next time, you’ll hear even more precious information. You will get more opportunities to build up authority and leadership with that person.

4. Find One Thing to Love

You heard this:

People are the greatest asset of a company.

So, a true leader must genuinely love and value people.

How on Earth can you genuinely value and love someone you barely know? Or someone who has not done anything valuable yet?

There’s a trick:

Don’t try to like the whole person at once. Find at least one trait you deem valuable.

A new team member is easy to communicate with? Does she have the right attitude? Good, that will work.

Do you believe that it’s a valuable feature of her role? Then it would be easy for you to tell that to her frankly, wouldn’t it?

In a week, you may notice that she’s a hardworking person.

If this trait is higher in your system of values – nice, you can build on that. You can now value your team member for hard work.

You got the point.

Start small and discover new aspects of a person that you can love and value.

By the way, sometimes you will not find anything aligned with your system of professional values. It’s a sign that working with such a person will be difficult.

It may break synergy in the team.

5. Encourage People and Say Thank You

I’m not talking about some general encouragement.

Again it’s about a display of faith, recognition, and gratitude on a daily basis.

“How do you know if someone needs encouragement? If they are breathing!”

– S. Truett Cathy

Encouragement and recognition should NOT be limited to the cases when team members work beyond the call of duty.

  • You can build leadership without authority by merely showing belief in their professionalism or abilities.
  • You can establish authority by saying Thank You for explaining technical aspects in simple words, for example.
  • You can recognize a work without defects or proactive behaviors.

The Main Takeaways

Whenever you need to build leadership without authority, start with simple and basic tactics.

It’s a ground level. The more profound you make it, the easier it will be to push your authority and influence at a higher level.

But without this ground level, more complex leadership approaches do not work.


How to Manage Leaders and Lead Senior Project Managers

Often you need to lead senior-level team members.

For example, you are a Junior PM, and you lead a team of experts with a decade of experience.

There are serious challenges you will face for sure:

  • They won’t recognize your authority.
  • They will keep to old ways of doing things.
  • They will have their own interests.
  • It means many conflict situations.

I get it. It is painful!

In this chapter, we’ll talk about five tips you should follow to benefit from working with highly experienced team members, other managers, and even your boss.

You might be even trying to avoid working with senior experts subconsciously.

Ask yourself:

‘Do I hire and prefer to work with people of about my age?”

It is normal if you do.

However, you might be missing a lot of opportunities by avoiding working with established leaders and senior-level experts. Moreover, it should not be that stressful or risky.

I can’t boast that I understood it all from the start. I must admit I learned some of these tips the hard way.

So, I saw the difference between the wrong and the correct approaches.

I just want to warn you:

These tips work better all together as they integrate into one another. Therefore, to get better results – work in all directions.

1. Find Out Personal Stories

Behind vast experience, developed ego, and a long history of working in the company, there are also family, hobbies, and outside-the-work goals.

Senior project managers and team members have already achieved status and developed some self-esteem. More and more, their focus shifts from work to other areas of life.

You must recognize and respect that.

A lot of resistance will develop to protect that lifestyle.

You need to show your productivity and authority. But I don’t recommend endangering those aspects of their life.

Here’s the catch:

Try to leverage this knowledge to build better relationships. Show that you understand them. Show them that you acknowledge their achievements and assets in the company.

2. Communicate Your Vision of Successful Project

There’s one thing you cannot allow to happen when leading senior-level experts:

You can’t apply ad-hoc or “hope management.”

You need to have a clear vision of how to make things happen. It will be even better if you have a plan at hand.

You see, established experts and managers have a history of successes and failures. They have a preferred management approach that proved to be fruitful.

You might not be able to persuade them that your approach is better.

So, they’ll not follow you until they see that you have a valid plan at hand.

Understand this:

They have more authority due to many years of working in the company. If you don’t prove your capability, they will try to use that and influence your superiors to gain more control.

They’ll do that with the best intentions in mind.

However, it will not help you.

3. Listen to Them But Don’t Hand-off Controls

You need to listen to leaders and senior experts. They have a treasure of knowledge and experience.

Ignoring it is a crime.

So, you do need to show genuine interest in their feedback and ideas.

Listen carefully but do manage expectations at once.

You have the vision of success. You explained it. You have to keep to it.

So, the best way is to filter ideas and suggestions through the vision. Explain that the input is valuable, but you don’t see how it fits into the concept of the project success.

Also, always keep this argument at hand:

As the assigned project manager, you bear the responsibility for the project. You’ll take the blame. Therefore, it’s up to you to make the call.

You need to make an effort to communicate it transparently and honestly.

If you are not comfortable with what a senior team member suggests – he or she has to work harder to prove the validity of the idea.

That should be totally OK.

“It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”

– Steve Jobs

4. Give Enough Freedom to Benefit From Vast Experience

It’s more of a common tip. But it’s crucial in this case.

If you have someone with significant experience, skills, and knowledge, you don’t want to force them into much of the limits.

If they accept your vision and values, give them freedom in execution.

You can always correct their work in the process. But let them choose the approach and create the first drafts.

Set your expectations and keep to the best practices of delegation.

Also, correct your own expectations and your role:

Do your part of the work. Your responsibility is to integrate all the deliverables provided by experts together.

To make it more effortless, provide:

  1. Formatting standards, templates, and guidelines.
  2. Use collaboration tools and applications.
  3. Work on keeping your perfectionism at bay.

5. Communicate Current Project Status and the Latest News

You need to ensure that senior-level team members see the big picture of the project.

They need to know what’s happening behind the scene. They need to understand what happens in stakeholders’ minds.

You do need to filter the information flow. However, keep your senior experts and leaders fully informed. Let them decide on the further application of project knowledge.

Keep in mind it is a requirement for their best productivity.

The Main Takeaway

It’s always challenging to lead senior project managers, leaders, and experienced team members. It won’t be easy even by following these tips.

Also, it takes time to form productive relationships.

Nevertheless, it should not stop you from working with them and leveraging the superior impact they can provide.


How to be the Best Project Manager (For Your Team)

Here’s how I remember my initial periods as a project manager. It is just the same as I saw it many times with others.

I had a small team, a minor project. At that moment, I knew little about project management. I had some knowledge and experience working with people.

That’s all.

My mentor told me, “First of all, you need to build strong relationships with your team. With that, you can finish any project.” Most of the resources and books on project management for beginners suggest the same. It is valid advice to some extent.

But then what?

  1. You built great relationships with the team.
  2. It’s very pleasant to work with them day after day.
  3. You resolved (or most likely smoothed) all the serious conflicts with them.

Therefore, you do not want to change anything.

So, that’s the root cause of the problem.

Balance Care and Candor

In his book “The 5 Levels of Leadership: Proven Steps to Maximise Your Potential.” Maxwell, John C. states:

“Care without candor creates dysfunctional relationships. Candor without care creates distant relationships.”

In Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, love and belonging are just a midpoint to motivation and engagement.

Herzberg’s motivation-hygiene theory also states that healthy work conditions are hygiene factors, not a motivator.

In the long run, healthy relationships and team spirit are not what drives people at work.

Therefore, you need to maintain a professional atmosphere, but it shouldn’t be an end goal.

What is the Plan?

Our primary goal is not to make people happy. We must create an environment where people can make themselves happy.

It gets us to the point where we need to focus on counterintuitive aspects of leadership in project management. More on that below

But also keep in mind this:

There is no black and white here. In the long run, we need to achieve project objectives and finish it on time. Therefore, it’s always a balance of care and candor, project, and people management.

You can’t always please your project team. Sometimes they need to work hard.

So, how do you balance different approaches?

What the Best Project Manager Do

As a project manager, you have particular talents.

That means that you are willing to do things others do not like.

On the other hand, you have knowledge of what makes people happy. Not what they perceive as happiness.

Quite a strong statement, isn’t it?

1. Build a Project Management Framework

People do not like ambiguity and uncertainty at work. Especially when it may impact their career.

On the other hand, they do not like strict control and tedious work.

Therefore, it’s your main responsibility to set boundaries and define zones of freedom. It’s not the same as enforcing the rules just because you know how to manage a project.

You do need to select processes, tools, and techniques. However, you also must “sell” their value to the team.

Rules should be meaningful, valuable, and necessary. Moreover, you must maintain the rules and adjust them as the team develops.

There’s one more thing you need to know:

No one cares about processes and policies on the project except for you.

2. Ensure Interactions Between People

People without leadership aptitude hate to:

  • Make decisions
  • Take responsibility
  • Get into conflicts

Moreover, they’ll try to delay it as much as possible.

You’ll do them a great favor by organizing and smoothing these activities.

Therefore, I believe the best project managers are connectors. They help people with different domain knowledge, skills, and characters interact with each other without stress.

3. Set Goals Even if No One Asks to

Goal setting is necessary for initiative team members as well as for passive ones.

It is not enough to communicate the next tasks a person should work on. It is boring.

People need to feel they are working towards a bigger goal. They want to contribute.

On the other hand, goal setting helps to delegate work. When people know the direction and context, it’s much easier to explain the tasks at hand.

Also, it opens up opportunities for initiative, improvement, and innovation. You know, people start thinking on their own when you do not tell them how to do it.

They start to feel ownership.

“Good leaders do not take on all the work themselves; neither do they take all the credit.”

– Woody Williams

4. Empower People on a Daily Basis

When do we get the most satisfaction from work?

It’s when we accomplish something meaningful, challenging, and without external help.

Think of an immediate solution that comes to you for a problem that no one knew how to solve. Do you feel energized and happy at such moments?

For sure, you cannot supply the team with such activities on a daily basis.

Nevertheless, you need to load your team with work close to the limit of their capabilities and skills. Otherwise, they will soon get into the comfort zone. Not many motivators work there.

Therefore, let your team do the work. Without you. Without your control.

Here’s a confusing moment:

You do need to control them. However, there are other ways to do that.

For example, let them report to you on daily stand-ups or in a written report.

Yes, it does require some trust from your side. Moreover, it requires training and coaching efforts from you.

But it provides a necessary level of control and power to a team member.

What Great Project Managers Do NOT Do

At first, a draft of the list of “don’ts” was huge. However, I had several weeks to think it over.

One by one, I removed them from the list. Even the best project managers can apply them to good use. Again, it is never black and white for us.

Therefore, I ended up with only three real things you should avoid.

1. “Help” the Experts to do Their Work

The best example is working with graphic artists, designers, or any other creative type of people.

There’s a drawback of the ultimate responsibility for the project we talked about above:

You may feel that you know everything better than the rest. At least in areas that you can comprehend.

Therefore, you start telling the designer what the exact design should be.

On the other hand, now, the designer must manage your expectations. He must create a great design (for sure your design is a disaster), quite close to your input. Moreover, he must ensure that you like it.

Both of you do the things you shouldn’t be doing.

Therefore, try not to tell how to do it. Ask for the result that you expect to get. Ask for different variants or approaches. However, don’t tell them how to do their work.

2. Total Control Over the Project

We tend to feel more comfortable when we have complete control over the project.

It requires tremendous effort to maintain it. But we still suffer to keep everything under direct control.

Do you need to know how much time a person spent on your task today? Do you have to control it personally?

There are other ways to control things. How about developing responsibility and trust?

For example, a team member does not need to report anything while he is on track. He or she should log the progress in the task tracker and record efforts personally. The project manager can always see the status there on his own. Sync up once a day.

Or a more common example:

You try to participate in all meetings that your team members organize. But do you really need to participate? Can you provide additional value to the discussion?

You need to delegate responsibilities.

Yes, that is scary at first. Moreover, again it requires some training and teaching from your side.

3. Avoid Conflicts at All Costs

It’s the worst thing you can do. Getting along with conflicts in your team is a strategy for failure. It hurts the most in the long perspective.

However, it’s even more important to resolve conflicts.

Do you tolerate troublesome team members?

Simply because you are a good project manager and care for people. You do believe in his or her good aspects. However, is it for good? Does anyone benefit from it?

Do you keep to outdated approaches, tools, and policies? Do you ever question them?

Do you keep to an inefficient project management methodology just because the client wants it? Moreover, you do not want to stress him too much. It just works, right?

These are just a set of common conflicts that we try to avoid. There are dozens of avoided conflicts in your team, with your stakeholders, and your management.

Best project managers are not afraid of surfacing problems, pushing pain points, and adopting changes.

Main Takeaway

As you can see, I suggested nothing about making people happy, trying to make them like you, or making friends.

On the contrary, I say – make them work hard!

But make them to feel meaningful, challenged, and contributing to the greater good.


How to Build a Project Management Team of Your Dream

There are just three things that a project manager should NOT delegate:

  1. Building (read integrating) a Project Management Approach for the given project.
  2. Leading the team as a whole.
  3. Motivating team members.

Everything else on the project you need to produce with the hand of your team and stakeholders.

It’s hard for me to sell the benefits of managing a project by only facilitating critical activities.

You need to try it on your own. But let me help you select the right people to support you.

One morning while having a cup of coffee and reading through emails, I found out that there is a fifth project that I urgently need to start.

There was no chance to handle them all. And there was no way to avoid the project.

It was clear that I was in need for help.

The idea of having a project management team is as old as the PMBOK Guide. But at that moment, it was hard to delegate project management duties to someone else.


It seemed like it was my work to do. And it was way too critical to delegate.

Jumping slightly ahead, I should say that even though it was the first time I created a project management team it was a success beyond my expectations.

Most of the suggestions and ideas below still work for me years after.

Step #1. Select People for the Project Management Team

The first question you need to answer is who will be helping you with project management.

The apparent impulse is to choose the most experienced specialists. They are knowledgeable experts, they participated in dozens of projects, and they have authority.

But on the second thought…

A junior project manager without technical expertise and dozens of projects is still able to motivate and lead people.

So, maybe experience and authority are not the key skills you are looking for

Here’s what works for me:

A) People on my project management team are responsible.

They take responsibility, and they own it.

It’s the kind of individual who sleeps badly when something is done not in the best way possible.

B) They should have leadership aptitude.

The best candidates are leaders without formal authority.

They can rally people with shared force of charisma or build their influence with personal outstanding performance.

On the other hand, I often see that great technical experts are introverts. They don’t have developed empathy and care.

C) They should be team players.

In the long run, I did not want just to delegate tasks. I want my project management team to take responsibility for team members in their group in all aspects.

In other words, my proxies should understand how to work with others.

Such people are always ready to help and quite comfortable to ask for assistance.

D) They should have free time to take on project management activities.

You do need to ensure that you provide enough time for them to perform project management tasks.

It’s quite difficult to spare the precious time of the best specialists on tasks not related to their knowledge area.

You may not know your team well at the beginning. It might be a good idea to collect feedback from managers who worked with your team members before.

In any case, do your best to gather as much information as possible before making a choice.

Step #2: Delegate Responsibilities (+ Secret Ingredient)

Now you need to delegate the tasks correctly.

I won’t go into the details of standard practices of delegation here. There are so many great articles on the Internet.

However, there’s one specific matter I would like to point out as a project manager:

You need to keep in mind further integration of the project.

You’ll receive a lot of information from different people. It will be different in form and style. So, you’ll have to spend a lot of time to compile everything in one coherent piece.

There’s one best way to overcome this. You need templates.

What Templates will help you delegate better?

Anything that you need to produce two or more times during a project will benefit from a template.

Also, anything that should be created uniformly:

Spend time creating quality templates now and they will save you a lot of time in the future.

(You can reuse them on other projects as well.)

How to Create a Useful Template

First of all, templates should be easy to use and exceptionally apparent for those who use them.

You need to predefine all font types, formats, colors, and spaces as much as possible.

Any field that should be filled in should have a description and an example.

It might also be useful to clarify how you’ll use the information in the future.

And be a modern PM! You can record video instructions rather than writing them out. It’s much faster.

It’s also beneficial when your team gives you feedback on your templates.

Step #3: Facilitate the First Steps of the Project Management Team

The magic doesn’t happen on its own. Still, there’s much work to do from your side.

And I should warn you in advance:

This approach does not save you time and effort in the short term. It just requires a different involvement from your side.

Share the vision of the project management approach

You need to ensure that the role, authority, and goal of each team member are clearly stated.

Then, give the management team a gentle push.

It’s a bit awkward for them to take on new responsibilities. Especially communication and negotiation between each other.

So you need to help each sub-team at the start by setting specific goals and deadlines.

Control collaboration in the team

During the initial period, I put off my headphones and try to listen to the team’s talks as much as possible. But I do not intervene unless it is critical.

If the team is fresh, it will be storming in any case. So I also keep an eye on any unresolved conflicts.

You can’t expect that everyone understands every bit of the project management approach.

So I usually try to explain details, background, and dependencies between tasks that the team works on.

It pays off quickly when you mentor and develop a team while they perform actual work.

Step #4: Start to Derive Deeper Expert Analysis

I remember the first results of the newly created project management team. With the data I received, it was the easiest project I had.

Each piece of the project documentation got much more attention. For example, besides the usual decomposition of work packages, I received comments, concerns, and suggestions for each activity.

They became the input into risk management.

Though it was not a new practice, the quality of the additional information on activities and in-depth analysis was much greater.

It only happens when people feel responsibility and ownership of a task or a problem.

How can you create such feelings?

Again, delegate responsibilities, not tasks:

When you explain a task at hand, I try to establish the impression that you need a complete solution, not just a filled-in template.

For example, plant some doubt that your template is not entirely suitable or good enough. There’s some space for improvement. And your team member can do it.

Additionally, you can explain how their work will be used in the future by you and others. It added up value and meaningfulness to the work.

Step #5: Foster Effective Collaboration

It’s tempting to control all the interactions in the team.

It provides you the results closer to what you expect. However, it also kills the initiative to make connections between teams or departments. Moreover, it eats up all of your time.

Here’s what I usually do.

I give away the ownership of the task to a responsible person. It includes the responsibility to proactively collaborate with others.

How to Foster Proactive Collaboration

I only describe the inputs that would be good to use and the people that should be involved.

On the other hand, I clearly state the output I need, it’s the format, and the way I’ll use it.

I also indicate a person who will help me check and verify the outputs.

Now the responsible person has to communicate with others to collect information, verify ideas, and so on.

It’s important to give the team some time to find ways to communicate and build up working relations on their own.

I intervene only in case of some serious conflicts or meaningless debates. Only to cool down the discussion, align it with the task, and to remind about the pressing deadlines.

Then, I step back again.

Sooner or later, they have to come up with a constructive way to efficiently perform their work.

If you do not influence too much during this process, you would end up with a strong team.

6. Share the Feeling of Mutual Responsibility

I often repeat that a project manager holds the ultimate responsibility for the project.

It’s your responsibility to your superiors.

On the other hand, it’s your responsibility to take the blame for your team. In other words, to shield them from any negative outcomes.

It’s the primary source of your power in the team.

By managing projects efficiently and achieving the goals while nursing your team, you win authority and trust. People like to work in safe, productive, and respectful environments.

However, within the project, I do recommend building mutual responsibility for the project outcome in each team member.

Here is how I do it:

Step 1: Delegate Responsibilities

We talked about it in the previous steps.

I delegated the tasks and ownership to the team.

How do I do it?

For example, I let them choose what pieces of the project they want to work on. Also, I allow enough freedom so they can make critical decisions.

Here’s the trick:

They don’t need approval from me, a project manager, on technical decisions. But they need to discuss it with a team leads (who has authority as a technical expert).

It all builds up the responsibility for the part of the project scope a team member selected on his own.

To reinforce the feeling of ownership, I need to take responsibility for his work.

Step 2: Explain the Ultimate Responsibility

Firstly, I remind the team about my ultimate responsibility for the project.

I promise them to take all the hits from the outside. I promise to shield them from any negative external influence. And until they perform to their best and do not violate any major rules, no harm will reach them.

They will always deal only with me.

It’s something that you need to prove.

With a new team, it will be just words with nothing to back them up. But the more you are consistent with your promises, the stronger your reputation will become.

At some point, it will go without saying that working with you is just a great experience.

Step 3: Explain Your Professional and Ethical Responsibilities

Don’t assume they know your trade.

Explain your responsibility to finish the project within the given constraints.

Quite often, timelines and budgets are very tight. Sometimes are even impossible. But you are responsible to either come up with a realistic plan or cancel the project. Which may have a negative impact on their careers as well.

The greatest challenge for you is to find a balance where the team thinks that the scope of the project is still feasible and they agree to be responsible for their commitment.

Now the team acknowledges that their tasks are feasible, and they promised you to finish them in time.

If they fail, they’ll put you in a sour position. They’ll break the promise.

Whatever happens after, they will be more attuned to fulfill the commitment. It will be much easier to ask for some extra effort.

However, it will only work while you keep to your promises.

Putting additional stress on the team by accepting a change request without negotiating changes to deadlines or scope is a good example of a violation.

Key Takeaways

Leadership in project management is not easy. This one is not an exception.

It’s a hard and challenging approach:

  • You may not have suitable people on the team.
  • They may not have enough experience.
  • They may be totally demotivated.
  • You may not have enough time and effort to build the project management team.
  • You may not have support for such an approach within your organization.
  • You will choose the wrong people from time to time.

Moreover, it puts you in a vulnerable position. And people will let you down sometimes.

However, without a strong project management team to support you, there’s no way to manage big and complex projects.

If you do it on your own – it’s a recipe for disaster.


How to Make Project Team Honor Commitments

Making people honor commitments is a complex problem.

Asking them to provide some level of output consistently is difficult.

Forcing someone to work is unacceptable. I hope you agree on that.

So, what can you do?

In this chapter, I will get through three approaches you can take.

This might make YOU reconsider the value of pushing too hard.

Can you relate?

You come to the office in the morning. As usual – when the working day starts.

You see a group of people who are working already. They come earlier than you do.

You see some people taking their morning coffee. They are in the office earlier, but they are kicking the day off yet.

One or two persons are late.

Someone is late for half a day.

Your project team doesn’t work the same hours. Moreover, they don’t spend time equally efficiently.

But here is the catch:

They provide a different amount of value. Quite often, the amount of value doesn’t correlate with time spent.

This should make you wonder:

“Should I force people to sit 8 hours in the office?”

Request Consistent Daily Commitment

That is a straightforward one.

People come to the office from 9 to 5. So, every day each person should spend 6–8 hours working.

Or at least pretend to be working.

There is only one direct way to control this kind of commitment. You need to watch a person sitting at his or her table.

How does that sound?

“Hey, Peter, you need to give us eight hours of good work every day. OK, I understand that efficiently you can do about six per day. So, if you came late, you need to leave late and cover the required hours…”

Here is the problem:

Peter will soon understand that there’s no need to go beyond of duty.

Why bother?

The only way to show you are a good worker is to show up on time. Sit in front of a manager. That is it.

Peter feels obliged to give you the highest estimates he can prove.

He does not see a direct correlation between his hours and rewards.

By the way, you can’t tell the difference either.

Are there any benefits to such an approach?

It’s okay if your team is billed per hour, and it’s the only measure of progress.

You work under times and material contract. You have much work to do.

You work, you make progress, everyone’s happy.

But what if…

Let People Define a Scope Based Commitment

Think for a moment about the estimation process.

Some things take a specific amount of time. Some standard and everyday tasks.

However, here is the trick:

Usually, we do unique work, with different people, different circumstances.

If done correctly, your team analyzes the work at hand and provides estimates.

(You may also conduct Risk Management and add reserves for some tasks.)

Then, you show it to stakeholders.

If the estimation looks reasonable, your clients will approve that. You will start working.

Now, we have Peter.

He has several tasks. One of them was estimated for ten days.

He finishes it in 7 days. He did a good job! Well done!

If everything goes well, do you mind him slack a bit during the next one or two days?

Why not?

Are there any benefits of pushing the project to finish earlier?

Or is it you who feels unsure in your own project plan? So, you want him to take the next task as soon as possible.

“Just in case something happens…”

Here is the truth:

In a healthy and engaged team, it is very uncomfortable to slack too much. People work hard around you. Most probably, some of them helped you several times. You own them that much.

So, if Peter decides to “pretend” working for those three days, something’s wrong with your leadership.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Peter makes estimates himself.
  2. He commits to finishing the work within the given timeline.
  3. Peter controls his own work.
  4. He bears responsibility for delivering the piece of the project scope.
  5. Peter works as many hours as he wants. It goes both ways – if he feels he needs more time, he puts more hours.

Of course, there still should be close communication. Moreover, amendments can be made.

Mutually beneficial relationships are still the priority.

Allow Value-Based Commitment

Now let’s take a step further.

Avoid giving tasks and assignments.

You have a project scope. You have a pull of tasks and activities.

Let project team members select the work they want.

You need to push them a bit:

  • Show that you trust them.
  • Praise specific expertise.
  • Sell the impact each task has.
  • Make a challenge out of general work.

There are many ways you can make people believe they are unique.

That for example, Peter is the only one suitable for the job.

If someone doesn’t have experience or expertise, then he or she has something to strive for.

Here is what you need to understand:

People define scope and estimates on their own. They bear the responsibility. It was their professional opinion.

Even more:

They selected the tasks they would enjoy doing. Even if it is a pull of not very interesting ones.

So, they can’t lay blame on someone’s poor estimates. They have little arguments to complain about given work. Moreover, their professional dignity is at stake.

Add up this little secret:

You don’t sit idle. You don’t wait for them to fail or succeed.

You help them to finish on time. Make reserves. Allow some space for mistakes. Remove impediments for them. Let them focus on the task at hand.

That is not all.

You can now stack up other motivators:

  • Career development roadmap
  • Transparent rewards system
  • Subject matter expert status
  • Professional community

Key Takeaway

Your personal and professional insecurities can stand in the way of making people honor commitments.

To make them work harder, you need to give them a little more trust and freedom.

Nevertheless, don’t assume that you can influence any person around you. Some people will not be interested in working by default.

You need to be ready to fire or remove people from your project.

Also, keep in mind the required efforts. Quite often, smaller projects will not allow building value-based commitments.