Five Key Elements of Project Leadership I Learned From Peter F. Drucker

The well-known management guru Dr. Peter F. Drucker said that the performance of the project leader determines the success or failure of the project. The number one reason that project team members stay or leave is how they are treated by their project leaders.

Dr. Drucker described these five key elements of project leadership:

  1. Leader-follower:  project leaders influence the behavior of team members, and vice versa
  2. Influencing:  project leaders and team members using knowledge and competence rather than position and status to influence each other
  3. Project objectives:  outcomes that project leaders and team members want to accomplish
  4. Change:  needed to achieve project objectives
  5. People:  project leadership is about leading team members

Project leadership is the process of influencing team members to achieve project objectives through change.

1.   Leader-team members

Good team members perform project leadership roles when needed. And team members influence project leaders. In Dr. Drucker’s definition of project leadership, the influencing process is between leaders and team members, not just a project leader influencing team members. Knowing how to lead and developing project leadership skills will make you a better project leader and follower.

Project leadership is part of a project manager’s job. However, there are project managers who are not effective project leaders. There are also project team members who have great influence on project managers and team mates. The term project manager means a person who has a formal title and authority. The term project leader means a person who may be either a project manager or a team member. A project leader always has the ability to influence others; a project manager may not. Thus, a project leader is not necessarily a person who holds the formal position of project manager.

A follower is a person who is being influenced by a project leader. A follower can be a project manager or a team member. Good project team members are not “yes people” who simply follow the project leader without giving input that influences the project leader. In short, effective project leaders influence team members, and their team members influence them.

2.   Influence

Influencing is the process of a project leader communicating ideas, gaining acceptance of them, and motivating team members to support and implement the ideas through change.

 3.   Project objectives

Effective project leaders influence team members to think not only of their own interests but the interest of the project. Project leadership occurs when team members are influenced to do what is right and supportive for the project and themselves.

4.   Change

Influencing and setting project objectives is about change. Projects continually change, in adapting to different decisions about scope, due dates, and budgets.

Project leadership involves influencing team members to bring about change toward bringing the project in on target, on time and on budget.

To be an effective project leader and team member you must be open to change. The project team members who advance in project management are those who are willing to take a risk and try new things.

5.   People

Effective project leaders and team members enjoy working with people and helping them succeed.

Dr. Peter F. Drucker pointed out the direct relationship between a project’s success and its commitment to these five key elements of project leadership.

For more about the five key elements of project leadership check out one of Learning Tree’s new courses, Preparing for Executive Leadership.

James L. Haner

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