Project Management Institute

Project leadership means role playing


by Greg Hutchins, Contributing Editor

GREAT PROJECT LEADERS are chameleons. Don't get me wrong; they are genuine and authentic, but they are also resilient and manage as circumstances dictate. In my experience, the truly successful and effective project leaders are the ones who can adapt successfully to changing project circumstances. The project leader assumes many roles depending on the situation, results required, stakeholders involved, and expediency.

Leader. Leadership is often an art. Depending on customer requirements, organizational culture, and project member abilities, leadership may involve “command and control” elements to “coaching and mentoring.” Sensitivity to circumstances and flexibility are key. A project leader may suggest and demonstrate as opposed to command and control.

Role Model. The effective project leader models appropriate behaviors such as integrity and honoring commitments. Personal integrity is a key moral principle to guide personal performance and instill project trust.

Change Agent. A project leader often is a change agent. This person must move the project team in new directions. Old ways of business may no longer be sufficient. A project team may have to change from a purely technical to a customer-focused mindset.

Champion. If there's no corporate champion, the project leader must always remind the organization of the importance of the project. The true project champion knows the political game to keep the project visible and funded.

Coach. Project leader as coach is also changing. The coach is nominally in charge, decides who's on the team and who plays. But the coach is not responsible for the big play or series of downs. Professional, competent, and committed team members win games and complete projects.

Mentor. One of the soft project disciplines, mentoring project members may be as simple as explaining organizational and project protocols to new employees, or may entail providing long-term career development to a team member.

Enabler. The project leader is also an enabler, assisting project team members with establishing and meeting personal as well as project goals. This may mean reviewing plans, assessing project processes and training that supports team members. The enabler does not control or punish, but assists and counsels team members to do the right things right.


Greg Hutchins, PE, is a principal with QPE, a program, process, and project management advisory firm in Portland, Ore., specializing in leading/coaching project teams. He can be reached at 800-COM-PETE or Send comments on this column to

Cheerleader. Can-do project leaders have a higher hit ratio than sour project managers. Project cheerleaders are infectious self-starters and generate enthusiasm in others with encouragement or simply giving thanks.

Ombudsperson. Great term! The project leader may become an ombudsperson to resolve project, customer, stakeholder, and team member conflicts.

Delegator. Delegation means being able to let go, establish trust, and share a common project vision. Smart project leaders want to establish clear project protocols and eventually be able to manage by exception or variance.

Entrepreneur. Project entrepreneurs may have a leadership or team member role or even rotate these roles as circumstances dictate. High-performance project teams are self-directed, with each project member being self-managed. Each person becomes responsible for seeking and taking advantage of project opportunities as they arise.

Translator. Projects have their own protocols and methodologies. Look at the PMBOK® Guide, full of suggested project management principles and practices. The project leader may have to explain—even translate—project language to the rest of the organization.

System Architect. The project leader may have to lead, support, or explain organizational transformations. This may entail adopting new methodologies, deploying virtual teams or heading up an organizational change initiative.

Manager/Administrator. This is the traditional project manager role: planner, organizer, controller, and staffer of the project.

Organizer. The project leader also organizes resources, people, and information, often electronically rather than on paper.

Compliance Officer. Probably the most onerous job of a project leader is communicating accepted behaviors, correcting unacceptable behaviors, and disciplining if necessary. The project leader is responsible for ensuring compliance to workplace regulations; to technical requirements; to sexual harassment, equal opportunity and disability laws.

LOOK AT ALL THE roles a project leader assumes. How many are technical? How many are soft and people-driven? ■

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.

PM Network April 2000



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