Seven Facets of Great Project Leaders

Spencer Holmes of Project Leaders today introduces a new way of addressing project management development. His three key points are as follows:

  1. There is a leadership deficit in project management
  2. Why this might be
  3. The start of a training and development answer

This is the first in a series of eight articles in the weeks to come from Spencer on project leadership and development of project leaders. Be sure to check out the psychometric test link below that Spencer set up free for Camel users – seems I’ve got some project leadership “potential” myself!

Over to Spencer now…

Our story: In simple terms, too many Project Managers are struggling with leadership, whether it be managing stakeholder expectations, negotiating with suppliers and contractors or raising team morale when the project has gone off the rails.

Our team has been grappling with this realisation for seven years, combining university and industry research to boil down those few factors that differentiate project managers from project “leaders”. Before going into these, I’d like to take a moment to consider the issue.

As a jobbing PMs and PM trainers and consultants, we know this is an issue. Just check any discussion in a project management LinkedIn group and ALL the chat is about leadership. There is a real deficit of leadership behaviour on projects. I believe there are a number of factors at play here.

Often, PMs become PMs because they were good at something else, software development, quantity surveying, forestry, you name it. This comes about through a misguided, (although usually well-intentioned), belief that project management is a fair way of promoting a subject matter expert into a wider role. Project management is of course a huge change of scenery from being the specialist in a niche.

One of the best presentations on leadership I’ve ever seen is by Benjamin Zander, which can be viewed below. Please indulge when you have a spare 20 minutes or so.

The bit that really stayed with me was when he says that, as the conductor, he leads the orchestra but makes no noise. He positions leadership as coordination, guidance, a focal point, but not running round and trying to play  all the  instruments. Project leadership requires project managers to come out of the pit, and to keep everyone, players, composers and audience alike, delighted with what is going on. This is hard.

I also find that PMs are usually selected from the mid regions of the organisational structure yet the outcomes they need to achieve require the engagement of those higher in the food chain. When sponsorship is weak (which it so often is) PMs have little or no chance of influencing the right people in the ways they need to.

Lastly, projects are about “change”.  Of course introducing change at almost any level creates a range of behavioural responses, not by any means all positive. It takes real leadership talent to deal with humans when they are expressing conscious and sub conscious resistance. All this also takes place in the pressure-cooker environment of balancing time, cost and quality parameters.

So, the result of our research has been to describe seven facets of personality that create the basis for effectively leading projects, the difference between project management and project leadership. These are the facets we need to understand in order to elevate the role into a significant change catalyst and leader of business progress.

The facets link closely with the “big five” personality  traits, which have been updated and adjusted to reflect contemporary project leadership challenges.

So the 7 facets are:

  1. Pragmatism – goal-oriented, focused and determined completion of tasks
  2. Creativity – seeking novel solutions to old issues
  3. Positive intolerance – taking tough decisions to get projects achieved
  4. Stability – effective performance under pressure
  5. Communication – clear and effective articulation of any issue to any audience
  6. Motivation – of self an others in the project, especially when times get tough
  7. Group orientation – collaborating with others to improve project outcomes

Of course these headings can be, (and have been), deliberated and adjusted indefinitely. However we firmly believe, from our extensive review of 100 years of leadership literature and, possibly more tellingly, repeated consultation of industry leading Project Managers, and the refinement of that consultation, that these fit the current picture.

Both training and consulting on project matters, I know first hand that the behavioral side of the job is given a second class status in comparison to technical tools. (Even those are patchy at best). However, from my own background in rehabilitation, I have always contested that “soft skills” are always the hardest to improve and embed.

So I am using this blog to canvas opinion on the facets – your views as to their relevance and experiences of where they have been applied, or where a deficit in one or some have costed the project.

I will use my next 7 blogs to describe these facets in more detail.

Our test: At Global Project Leaders we have just released the third, improved version of a psychometric test to try and measure the results of our research and provide useful feedback for acting and potential project leaders. Usually $29, we would love you try this for free by going to and completing the full test. When you are asked to pay simply put in the following code 016d95e7d1 and you will soon receive a report on your project leadership profile.


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