Project Management Institute

Leadership practices that provide extraordinary results


Repeatedly we hear of the miserable success rates for IT projects. The Standish Group (2008), publishers of the CHAOS Reports, argued that software projects generally do not meet one or more of the cost (budget), time (schedule), or scope requirements, also known as the triple constraint (Project Management Institute [PMI], 2004, p. 8). Projects are classified based on three types of outcomes: successful, challenged, and failed. An outcome labeled as successful must meet all three of the triple constraint parameters. A challenged outcome is a project that was completed and operational but did not meet one or more of the triple constraint parameters. A failed outcome is a project that was started, but is cancelled at some time during the development cycle.

The first CHAOS Report (Standish Group, 1994) showed only 16% of projects being considered successful, 31% were outright failures, and 51% were considered challenged. Fast forward to 2006 and not much has changed. Thirty-five percent of projects were successfully completed, 19% of projects were failures, and the remaining 46% were considered challenged (Standish Group, 2008). These reports suggest that problems related to project outcomes that meet stakeholders’ expectations are determined largely by people in leadership roles and the procedures adopted by project managers. Poor leadership skills reflect limited or no teamwork, inadequate communication, and an inability to resolve conflicts as well as other interpersonal relationship difficulties.

A study by T. Lechler (1997), as cited by Hauschildt, Gesche, and Medcof (2000), found in his review of 44 studies that the success of a project depended on the human factor (e.g., project leadership, top management support, and project team) more so than on the technical factors. They also found that the human factors increased in importance as projects increased in complexity, risk, and innovation. Further, a project manager's performance had a direct correlation to project outcomes (Hauschildt et al., 2000), suggesting the critical role of the project manager's leadership ability on positive project outcomes. Neuhauser (2007) discussed studies by Jiang, Klein, and Chen (2001) that found that leadership, communication, and networking skills top the list of competencies for project managers. Zimmerer and Yasin (1998), in a study of the leadership characteristics of effective project managers, identified six characteristics contributing to effective project management success: good communicator, ability to motivate, decisive, leading by example, visionary, and technically competent.


If one subscribes to the premise that project management is the process by which we attempt to assure the deliverable of something of value that meets the customer's expectations and that project managers are the driving (leading) forces to make this happen, and we have a global standard in place for the process side in the A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide)—Third Edition (Project Management Institute [PMI], 2004), which seems to result in less than stellar results as indicated in the CHAOS Reports, then we must concentrate our efforts onto the leadership side of project management to determine if that is where we can effect more successful outcomes.

Often, project managers indicate that they have all of the responsibility and accountability for achieving results, but not the authority to get it done. This has been established as largely myth (Gottwald. 2008), as the project charter clearly authorizes the project and assigns a project manager. Project managers do indeed have the authority to assure positive results, but that perception is clouded by the fact that most project managers do not have the necessary leadership and interpersonal relationship skills to manage the human side of a project effort. There are a number of different factors related to the organizational culture, organizational structure, reporting relationships, leadership styles and approaches, project management maturity, etc., that influence whether a project manager perceives sufficient authority levels to assure successful project outcomes. The individual project manager's background, education, experience within the discipline, communication style, negotiating abilities, and leadership approaches have a bearing on team collaboration and project success.

This paper addresses a 12-step approach that will assist project managers to become more effective. It is specifically tailored to assist project managers in developing their leadership styles and approaches to maximize project team performance and produce outstanding results. Adoption of the principles covered here will benefit all project managers and project coordinators seeking to improve their performance and the performance of the teams they manage. It is important to recognize that no one approach will produce the same results for everyone. There are many dependencies that are beyond the scope of this paper, but suffice it to say, that, given the proper attitude, the approach will produce better results over time.


  • The first objective is to set the context and assist project managers in determining a baseline of their individual leadership and coaching abilities along with some associated parameters, such as emotional intelligence, interpersonal relationship skills, communications skills, personality type, and more…..
  • The second objective is to set the context and assist project managers in understanding their current situation within the context of a project management framework and identify the gaps between their perceived capabilities and reality.
  • The third objective is to develop a road map that leads to appropriate changes necessary for improvements that will lead to extraordinary project outcomes.

A 12-step process is outlined that provides the basis for self-evaluation, an individual strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) analysis, and a gap analysis to understand the required changes. Resource recommendations are also provided.

The Problem

Project managers are facing an uphill battle in most organizations as they attempt to manage competing stakeholder requirements; balance the triple constraint parameters (including quality, stakeholder expectations, and more); compete for skilled but scarce resources, face higher priority project dependencies; and work with teams whose boss is the functional manager trying to get them to work on the operational side of things. The project manager feels like a punching bag—surprises await at every turn. Exhibit 1 depicts a bit of the struggle, albeit in a more humorous fashion.

Project Manager's Struggles

Exhibit 1 – Project Manager's Struggles

The team has their own work that also requires their attention and, in most cases, the project manager has no influence on the performance review, so their motivation to work on a project might be very low or non-existent.

The functional manager is more concerned with the operational activities and isn't convinced that your project is of high priority. This puts the project manager squarely in the center of all the action, as the project must still be completed successfully using the available resources and managing a plethora of distractions that could derail even the highest priority project and leave the organization wondering what happened. SO how does a PM manage in all this confusion and apparent chaos? By becoming a leader!

Peter Drucker summed it up very well: “Only three things happen naturally in organizations: friction, confusion, and underperformance. Everything else requires leadership.”

What is Leadership?

It may be best to begin this section with defining what leaders actually do. Leaders translate vision into reality by inspiring followers to want to experience the change process and influence their followers to contribute willingly to the success of the project outcomes. Leadership has been characterized as both a science and an art. As Exhibit 2 depicts, leadership is the intersection and interaction between the leader, the followers, and the situation within an organizational context that is connected by an ability to communicate effectively across all areas.

(Adapted from Hughes, Ginnett, and Curphy, Leadership – Enhancing the Lessons of Experience 2009)

Exhibit 2
(Adapted from Hughes, Ginnett, and Curphy, Leadership – Enhancing the Lessons of Experience 2009)

So what is leadership really? Leadership is about POWER—the power to influence the outcomes of a vision in a positive manner to assure the results of that vision actually provides the promised benefits to the organization. Power can be defined in a number of different ways:

  • Expert power is the power of knowledge;
  • Referent power refers to the influence one has due to the relationship that exists between leader and follower;
  • Legitimate power depends on a person's organizational role;
  • Reward power involves the potential to influence others due to one's control over desired resources; and
  • Coercive power is the potential to influence others through the ability to punish.

By reflecting on the different power bases, a leader may better understand how followers would be affected and what kind of results they can expect. By reflecting on the different power bases, a leader may better understand how followers would be affected and what kind of results they can expect.

As you progress through your leadership change, use the action, observation, reflection (AOR) model to leverage your experience:

  • Action: What did you do?
  • Observation: What happened (i.e., results, impact on others, etc.)?
  • Reflection: How do you look at it now? How do you feel about it? What would you do differently next time you are confronted with a similar situation and/or followers?

The AOR approach will help you to develop a record that you can reflect upon (e.g., what should have been done versus what was done). The periodic review of the journal within the context of the AOR model should produce better results over time and assist you in making better decisions.

Before we get started, let's review the differences between managing and leading:

  • Leaders favor an environment where creativity is welcome;
  • Leaders value input from their subordinates without judgment;
  • Leaders support and encourage individual development;
  • Leaders have a big picture view and understand how each individual contribution fits the needs of the organization;
  • Leaders enable a motivational environment conducive to individual growth;
  • Managers emphasize routine and compliance with processes regardless of whether the process will actually deliver the required result;
  • Managers assess performance based on a fairly narrow job description, rather than reality;
  • Managers carry a big stick and a notebook for motivation;
  • Managers tell what and how and when, leaders ask when and why; and
  • Leaders do the “right” things, and managers tend to things right—even if it isn't the right thing to do.

Leaders, in general, obtain better results in a short timeframe at a lower cost than managers do, as leaders are not mired in outdated process and procedures. Leaders also value innovation and welcome new ideas, even if the idea cannot be implemented. This leads to an environment of improved performance and higher morale contributing to an overall sense of accomplishment and outstanding results.

As project managers, we need to realize that most everything that is done to produce the desired results in a project is being done by individuals brought together as a team. The project manager must lead the effort in such a way as to produce the results as requested within the constraints of scope, budget, time, quality, and scarce resources. This involves outstanding interpersonal and leadership skills on the part of the project manager. Now let's get started with the process of improving our leadership abilities to realize extraordinary results.

Before we can identify any steps for improvement, we need to understand what the current situation is in terms of our leadership style and skills.

Step 1 – Self-Assessment

Let's look into the mirror and identify what we see in terms of our leadership skills and abilities. We must be brutally honest with ourselves and acknowledge that we have not been as effective as a project manager as we could be. This self-evaluation is probably one of the most painful things that you can do. It requires a sincere desire to succeed and may require leaving your current organization to avoid being labeled or “typecast.” Often when one makes a drastic change in approach, it is simply not believable because of the person's past behavior and reputation. In this case, a change in “venue” may become necessary. Questions we should ask ourselves as we look into this proverbial mirror:

▪   Who are you and what do you stand for?

▪   What is your credibility?

▪   What are your credentials?

▪   What is your leadership style?

▪   What is your communication style and ability?

▪   What are your collaboration/coaching abilities?

▪   What is your emotional quotient (EQ)?

We should ask our friends, family members, peers, and co-workers for input. Be aware that your family and friends, and possibly even your peers may be very honest and open with you, but your coworkers may just tell you what they think you want to hear. You may want to ask for a 360-degree review—this will allow people to be honest without fear of reprisal—actual or perceived.

Step 2 – Formal Assessments

Here is where we add some objectivity in terms of assessments that provide a good picture of who we are and how we function. The following assessments should be performed:

  • Assess your personality type (Myers-Briggs),
  • Assess your emotional intelligence,
  • Assess your coaching skills,
  • Assess your leadership readiness, and
  • Take an in-basket exercise – proctored.

See the resource list for some links and suggestions for assessments.

Step 3 – Gap Analysis

Based on the outcomes of steps 1 and 2 we should perform a gap analysis to determine what steps we need to take for improving our leadership skills. Review the 360-degree feedback results and evaluate objectively—keep in mind that the evaluation presents the views of the people who assessed you. Perception is 100% reality and if it is wrong (in your estimation) then you need to find ways to make appropriate changes that will result in a different perception over time. Don't get angry—the assessment is probably true and you need to come to terms with that.

Add the input from family and friends, plus the various assessment results and compare these to the characteristics identified for outstanding leaders within the context of your organization, industry, or discipline. This will provide you with a good idea of the gap that you need to close in order to become a better leader. This should also result in an understanding of the required changes you will need to consider.

Step 4 – Develop Your Improvement Plan

Develop a plan based on a prioritization of which changes would provide the “biggest bang” for your time and efforts. Use your project management skills to develop a plan starting with your current perception of your leadership abilities, the goal you are setting for yourself over the next 1, 3, and 5 years to add to those abilities, and how you will accomplish those goals. Be specific for the near term goals (first year) and add milestones you expect to achieve over the remainder of the plan. You may want to find a mentor—a person whom you admire in terms of their leadership skills and their ability to get cooperation from all constituents, then the journey will become much easier, as the mentor can advise you on how to proceed with your improvement plan.

The improvement process is not a destination, but a journey. (Ashe).

Step 5 – Communication

One of the key aspects of leadership is the ability to communicate effectively in all situations. To gain the ability to present to various stakeholder groups and think on your feet, you should consider taking a public speaking course. In addition, you should consider joining Toastmasters International to practice your presentation skills. This one skill alone will make a huge difference in how others perceive you and your abilities. It is not necessarily what we say, but how we say it that will either elicit cooperation or leave people grumbling. When people grumble, their motivation to work together to achieve expected outcomes is seriously jeopardized. An example might be a project manager who “tells” people what to do and expects results by a certain time versus a project manager who asks people when something can be done. In the first case, the results will most likely not be achieved versus the second case, where the project manager transfers ownership to the team, which then executes as expected, as it was “their” idea and not the project managers.

Step 6 – Enhance your Interpersonal Relationship Skills

To improve your interpersonal relationship skills you might want to consider a Dale Carnegie or similar training course. There are a number of different courses available from communication, to interpersonal relationship skills, and leadership. High schools and community colleges are also excellent sources for self-improvement courses. These courses are generally offered over a 10–12 week timeframe, so the investment in time is minimal, and depending on which course or course sequence you take, are also very inexpensive. The results are usually outstanding and very likely assure your ability to advance your career beyond even your own expectations. The ability to work with people and communicate effectively are two of the most desirable traits for effective leadership and will contribute more to your career advancement opportunities than most any other skill you may possess.

Step 7 – Establish Credibility

To establish your credibility you must “walk the talk.” Your ethics should be above reproach and you should always do what you say you will. If you make a promise, you must keep it. It is also important that you are consistent in your approach and have sufficient emotional maturity to remain unemotional—even in the face of a crisis. Credibility can take many different forms. First, you must have a working knowledge of the discipline (in addition to your background in project management). For example, if you are managing road construction projects, you must understand civil engineering; if you are managing a pharmaceutical project, you must have a background in that discipline; if you are managing an IT project, you must have a working knowledge of IT. Without that background, your credibility will suffer at the outset and you may not be able to establish yourself as a credible project manager for that project. Although there is some conventional wisdom that a good project manager can manage any project – that is not true. You may have a great understanding of the project life cycle, but to be successful and have sufficient credibility as a leader, you also need the product life cycle understanding.

Step 8 – Promote a Consistent Vision of the Outcome

As the project manager on any project, you must know implicitly what is to be accomplished and you must communicate this vision to all stakeholders. The vision should not be different for different stakeholder groups – it must be consistent. You must promote the result as if you were marketing the next best thing to “sliced bread.” You must become the champion for the project and continually paint a positive picture of the outcome. This implies that you have a solid understanding of the contribution this project will make to the corporate goals and objectives and you recognize and communicate the benefits that will be realized. Consistently promoting the positive outcomes will become infectious and most often will result in everyone working together to achieve the outcomes. The key for this step is a positive attitude and consistency of message.

Step 9 – Be flexible – Challenge the Status Quo

Promote a healthy atmosphere that allows for stepping outside of the box and challenging the way things have always been done. Ask the team to look for solutions to vexing problems outside of the normal way of doing things. It is surprising what can be accomplished when the team perceives the boundaries of the “old” way of doing things have been lifted. Challenge the team to overcome adverse situations that could derail a project. Lead the team by example and start asking “what if” questions. Let them know that there is no proverbial “box” and any suggestion will be considered. Use the Delphi technique or brainstorming sessions, etc., to come up with new and innovative ways to solve problems. Remove the barriers to success and success will be yours.

Step 10 – Empower the Team

If the team feels that they have the authority to get things done – things will be done. Don't tell people “how” to do something, ask them to produce a certain result and they will. Build relationships with all stakeholders and do not forget the support activities. You must be equally adept at communicating your vision of the outcomes with all stakeholders—the sponsor, executive team, as well as client, project team, and support personne,l including the janitors. You never know when you will need their help to get things done. Share your power with everyone and your power will increase multifold. Encourage collaboration by promoting common objectives and building a sense of trust.

Step 11 – Reward Excellence and Have Fun

All too often, we forget to thank people for their outstanding contributions as we think that it was their job to get things done. If we were to start recognizing people for their contributions over and above the norm, we set up an environment where people feel that their contributions are recognized and valued, which will spur them on to do more of the same. When people feel like they have been taken advantage of or their contributions are not recognized, then we set the stage for mediocrity as the feeling becomes one of “why do something” no one cares anyway. In addition to recognizing excellence, we should also set an environment where we can have some fun. If the activity we are engaged in is not fun, we tend to look at it as drudgework and do only the minimal work required to get by. If we have fun doing the work, then the time flies and we tend to do excellent work, such is human nature and as PM's we need to be aware of this and set an environment where we can have fun and get things done in an outstanding fashion.

Step 12 – D W Y S Y W D—Do what you say you will do!

Following the previous 11 steps, we should now be ready to do exactly what we said we would do, namely assess our gaps, develop a workable plan to improve, communicate effectively, and set the stage for team collaboration and success—and have some fun as we traverse the road to outstanding results.

Step 12 – Best Learning Practices

Here are some tips that will facilitate your progress:

  • Tip 1—Be self-aware
  • Tip 2—Manage your emotions
  • Tip 3—Seek feedback
  • Tip 4—Take the initiative
  • Tip 5—Engage a coach
  • Tip 6—Set goals and make a plan
  • Tip 7—Practice, practice, practice!
  • Tip 8—Measure progress
  • Tip 9—Reward yourself
  • Tip 10—Be honest with yourself and humble with others

Make achieving leadership goals a part of your life. Start by keeping a journal. Write a description of the ideal future for yourself in 5 or 10 years. Keep the statement in your daily planner and read it often. Find a leadership mentor and make sure your mentor understands your goals. Meet regularly with him or her to discuss your progress. Review your journal at least once a month and make notes about your progress. Change action plans as necessary and create new action plans to address other leadership practices. Think about your leadership goals when you create your “to-do” lists and schedule at least one activity every week designed to help you meet goals.


In summary, to improve our ability to lead successfully projects that deliver the expected outcomes, we must first recognize that the problem is with us. Then we must be brave enough to be brutally honest with ourselves, assess our skills in terms of leadership, communication, interpersonal relationships, ethics, etc., and identify any gaps. Once the gaps are known, then we can develop a plan for improvement that will lead to a more successful and rewarding career as a successful project manager. BTW—this process should be considered a “bakers’ dozen” steps, as step 13 calls for us to start again from the beginning with step 1.

The Appendix contains a number of suggestions for your reading enjoyment and some sites for accessing self-assessment instruments that could prove to be very helpful in establishing a baseline for ourselves. It is recommended that you obtain the books for your own library – or go to a local library and start reading. The net effect could very well lead to new capabilities for you. Good luck on your journey to success…

References and books you may want to read NOW!

Bennis, W., & Goldsmith, J. Learning to lead: A workbook on becoming a leader. New York: Basic Books.

Covey, S. (2004). The 7 habits of highly effective people. New York: Free Press.

Goleman, D. EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE Why It Can Matter More Than IQ. Bantam. (1995)

Goleman, D. Primal Leadership: Learning to Lead with Emotional Intelligence. Harvard Business Press. (2004).

Gottwald, W. D. (2008). Influence without Authority and Navigating through Internal Politics. PMI World Congress Presentation. Denver, CO.

Hauschildt, Gesche, and Medcof. Project management journal. Vol. 31, no. 3 (Sept. 2000), p. 23-32.

Hughes, R., Ginnett, R., & Curphy, G. (2009). Leadership: Enhancing the lessons of experience. New York: McGraw-Hill/Irwin.

Jiang, Klein, and Chen (2001). Project management journal. Vol. 32, no. 3 (Sept. 2001), p. 49-55.

Kouzes J. M., & Posner, B. Z. (2006). A leader's legacy. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 2006.

Kouzes J. M., & Posner, B. Z. (2007). The leadership challenge (4th ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

Lencioni, P. (2000). The four obsessions of an extraordinary executive. San Francisco: Jossey-Bassey.

Lencioni, P. M. (2002). The five dysfunctions of a team: A leadership fable. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Lencioni, P. M. (2006). Silos, politics and turf wars: A leadership fable about destroying the barriers that turn colleagues into competitors. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Maxwell, J. C. (1999). The 21 indispensible qualities of a leader. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.

Neuhauser (2007. Project management journal. Vol. 38, no. 1 (Mar. 2007), p. 21-31.

Patterson, K., Grenny, J., McMillan, R., & Switzler, A. (2002). Crucial conversations: Tools for talking when stakes are high. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Patterson, K., Grenny, J., Maxfield, D., & McMillan, R. (2007). Influencer: The power to change anything. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Project Management Institute. (2008). A guide to the project management body of knowledge (PMBOK® guide) (4th ed.). Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.

Senge, P. M., Kleiner, A., Roberts, C., Ross, R., & Smith, B. (1994). The fifth discipline fieldbook. New York: Broadway Books.

The Standish Group International, Incorporated. CHAOS Reports (1994, 2008) 60 State Street, Suite 700 Boston, MA 02109.

Studer, Q. (2005). Hardwiring excellence: Purpose, worthwhile work, making a difference. Gulf Breeze, FL: Fire Starter Publishing.

Zimmerer and Yasin. Project management journal. Vol. 29, no. 1 (Mar. 1998), p. 31-38.

“Success is a journey not a destination. The doing is usually more important than the outcome. Not everyone can be Number 1.” Arthur Robert Ashe, Jr. - Retrieved from, July 30, 2009

Appendix—Links to Assessment Instruments:

Obtain Leadership Practices Inventory 3E Participant's Workbook and Self Assessment Set to establish a baseline for yourself:

Take the Jung Typology Test at—this is a Myers-Briggs type test:

Go to the IPIP-NEO (International Personality Item Pool Representation of the NEO PI-R™)

International Personality Item Pool and take the either the long version or the short version of the assessment (your choice).

An explanation of this personality test can be found at

▪ The assessments are designed for you to find out about YOU!

▪ The better your picture of you, the better your chance of making the appropriate changes to get you from where you are to where you want to go...

▪ These are just a few of the instruments available for you get a baseline reading of you and allow you start on the road to a better career

The Five-Factor Model

The five-factor model is comprised of five personality dimensions (OCEAN): openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. The five dimensions are held to be a complete description of personality.

Keirsey Temperament Sorter

The #1 online personality assessments - designed by David Keirsey PhD for corporate, career and personal development and used by Fortune 500 companies, counseling

Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) is the leading nonprofit institution dedicated exclusively to leadership. CCL integrates cutting-edge research with innovative training, coaching, assessment, and publishing to create proven impact for leaders and organizations around the world.

Emotional Intelligence Quiz

Be aware that many of the EI tests are not real indicators of EI—use them for a guide, but not as a definitive evaluation of your EQ index.

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI or any listed author.

© 2009, W. Don Gottwald
Originally published as part of 2009 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Kissimmee, Florida, USA



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