Project Management Institute

Young leaders

What are your best tips for leading a team as a young project manager?


“I'm the youngest on the team, so I had to prove my competence and earn the team's trust over time.

At first, an older member on my team wouldn't listen or provide any relevant status updates to me, because she didn't like the fact that I was the same age as her lastborn child. She couldn't comprehend why I was in charge. I told her it's nothing personal and we shouldn't have any issues if I'm able to verify her work. She agreed, but still was reluctant.

I told my boss about my challenges and suggested I give a presentation about what project managers do to ensure work gets done. After explaining the differences and benefits of our roles, she understood I was there to help the team and not to impose power on them. She has since changed her demeanor to me.”

—Yewande Akin, CAPM, information technology project manager, Fiserv, Sugar Land, Texas, USA

Focus on the Outcome

“As a young project manager, I achieve outcomes and deliverables through influence rather than a directive leadership style.

When a new project manager who was 20 years my senior joined my project, he viewed me as his apprentice. Though I was accountable for the project controls and he was accountable as the project manager, he was under the impression he would be teaching me about project management and leadership. That was okay because, for me, it's good to gain insight into various project management approaches from various project managers.

We had some heated discussions, but once I understood his needs and he understood my capabilities, we developed a working relationship and earned each other's respect.”

—Chris Booth, CAPM, project management cadet, BHP Billiton Mitsubishi Alliance, Moranbah, Australia

Be Assertive

“Listen to what your team is telling you and, more importantly, what they're not telling you.

I was once selected to manage a change management project instead of one of my colleagues, who had more than 25 years of experience in the organization. I had less than five years experience and was about 30 years his junior.

Leadership Gap

According to Deloitte's 2015 Millennial Survey, there are large gaps between what millennials perceive as the priorities of their organization's senior leaders, and what they would prioritize as leaders.

Meeting short-term financial goals


Personal income/rewards


Employee growth and development


Employee well-being


img What millennials would prioritize as leaders

img What they believe their current leaders prioritize

During the project, he was not actively disruptive. But he wasn't fully engaged, either. The last straw was when I discovered that I had been operating on incomplete information because he wasn't actively working with me.

To resolve the issue, I invited him out to lunch. I told him I felt he was contributing the bare minimum and wasn't supporting me. I said I felt he was setting me up to fail and I couldn't let that happen. We either needed to work things out together or I was going to be forced to take action that would ensure the success of the project.

He admitted having feelings of resentment and we had a very meaningful discussion. We left the restaurant with a tenuous agreement to better support each other. It didn't happen overnight, but we slowly began to trust each other.”

—Andrea Emrick, CAPM, project manager, Alberta Bone and Joint Health Institute, Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Show Your Chops

“All good leaders prepare themselves for some resistance. It's important to take charge from day one to set the tone for relationship and communication management for the rest of the project. My approach has always been to focus on the work at hand, acknowledge that every team member contributes value to the project and maintain basic principles of respect and humility in executing the project.

I remember the first steering committee meeting I attended with the director of one of my previous projects. When we arrived, the attendees assumed I was her personal assistant. Then I conducted the main project initiation presentation. Showing them my understanding of the project dynamics and how I handled the questions that followed earned me the respect of the team. From that point on, I worked well with the project team.”

—Rethabile Thaba, CAPM, PMP, project manager, iSchoolAfrica, Johannesburg, South Africa

Build Trust

“I've found that establishing a work environment built on trust is the key to success. Ensure that your team members feel comfortable approaching you with questions and concerns about a project.

At a previous employer, the culture was less friendly to younger workers. But at a relatively young age, I was tasked with training and supporting a group of mostly older program and project managers on the rollout of a new piece of software.

To earn my colleagues’ trust, I went above and beyond to resolve their problems. More importantly, I was open and honest with them. When I didn't know something, I quickly found someone who did. It worked for me because I set clear expectations and followed through.

Never give up. Every project will have difficult moments, but it's during these trying times your teammates need you most—so keep pushing.”

—Kristen Wypych, CAPM, project manager, Igloo Software, Kitchener, Ontario, Canada PM

Finding Your Place

What are your leadership secrets for young project managers? What difficulties did you face and how did you solve them? Share your tips on the PMI Project, Program and Portfolio Management LinkedIn Group.

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