Eleven Project Leadership Principles Worth Doing

Project managers, did you know there is a 1983 Army Leadership Guide that contains eleven principles of leadership well worth adding to your project leadership skill set? Funny how sometimes things survive the “test of time”, isn’t it? On this first day of June, here are some traits to consider the next time you are doing some self-analysis of your project leadership skills, straight from the US Army Military Leadership Guide.

1. Know yourself and seek self-improvement. As a project manager and a leader, we all need to look for opportunities to fine tune and improve our leadership skills. There is nothing quite like taking a good look at your project leadership skills and accentuating the positive skills, minimizing the negative things you might do and adding some new skills to the mix.

2. Be technically proficient.   Seems like the best leaders I have worked for and with on my projects knew their jobs and were very much “in the know” about my job, its tasks and the desired outcomes as well. That didn’t mean these leaders micromanaged me or were more technically proficient at the task level, though.

3. Seek responsibility and take responsibility for your actions. Every effective project manager is both responsible and accountable – for their project and for their team. Effective leaders look ahead to the future and also look back at the past for lessons learned to help the team succeed.

4. Make sound and timely decisions. If you don’t have a serious toolkit of   problem solving, decision-making, and planning tools, it is time to construct one. Effective leaders also involve the team in these activities – it never hurts to have more than one person thinking about how to solve a problem or do something differently.

5. Set the example. I have always thought that project managers set the tone for their team. They also set the bar for their team’s behavior and work ethic. Knowing this, who wouldn’t want to set the bar high for the team and encourage everyone to “strive to excel”.

6. Know your people and look out for their well-being. Taking care of your team should be a project manager’s top priority, right up there with achieving the project’s objectives and delivering a successful outcome. A manager I worked for many years ago told me that she thought of her team as a garden, and she was the gardener who nurtured her team members to help them grow.

7. Keep your team informed. All project managers know the number one cause of project failure is poor communication – with internal and external stakeholders, team members, the organization, specific individuals or all of the above. Effective leaders are capable communicators at all levels of the organization, and with one to many people.

8. Develop a sense of responsibility in your workers. This relates back to leadership trait #3. It can be tough to be a responsible leader when your followers and peers are not so responsible. Fostering and teaching your team to be responsible in the workplace pays dividends for everyone down the line.

9. Ensure that tasks are understood, supervised, and accomplished. Effective delegation skills are essential. This item makes me think about delegating work packages to team members or team leaders: involving the team in defining and planning what needs to be done, agreeing to the work, keeping you up-to-date with the status of the work and making sure the work is completed correctly. Remember, no micromanaging required.

10. Train and work as a team. Ask yourself, is your project team really a team or are they a group of people who work for you that are just doing their jobs? Teams of people do more than just show up to do their 9 to 5 jobs. High-performing teams work together to achieve a goal or objective, and oftentimes produce more than the sum of their individual parts.

11. Use and develop the full capabilities of your team. Leading your project team and encouraging them to achieve their full potential requires some effort on your part. To me, the idea of servant leadership fits really well here as you enable and encourage your team to excel but try to also get out of their way.

Susan Weese


Reference: U.S. Army. (October 1983). Military Leadership (FM 22-100). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

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