Just One Thing—Cultivate Your Project Leadership Skills

Just One ThingThe “Just One Thing” Series at Management Excellence is intended to provoke ideas and actions around individually important topics. Use them in good health and great performance!

Increasingly, the work of organizations is completed in the form of projects. Strategy is executed in projects. Innovation efforts take on the form of projects. Quality improvement efforts start-out as projects. Even planning the company holiday party qualifies as a project, albeit, a particularly stressful one.

Understanding the discipline and tools of project management is now de rigueur for professionals with any intention of growing in their careers. Whether you are an individual contributor, a functional manager or an executive, it’s great to understand the issues, challenges and practices of delivering projects.

However, when I take a close look at project teams that struggle (and too many do), it’s generally not the misapplication of project management tools or practices that are at the source of the problems. Most often, it’s the absence any visible form of project leadership.

Consider: project teams are generally temporary groupings of individuals with different skill-sets but a shared interest in creating something unique. Often, these individuals have little experience in working with each other, and while they might share an interest in the outcome, it’s dangerous to assume that this group will magically or easily coalesce into a functioning unit capable of navigating all of the issues that arise on teams and with projects.

The Project Manger/Leader is responsible for guiding this team from selection and assembly through the murky woods of learning to act, decide, learn, argue, resolve, create and execute together. And for an encore, they have to coordinate the phases of the project, the use of the tools and the communication and coordination and general herding of cats necessary to move the team forward and keep the stakeholders appropriately informed.

The most successful project leaders I’ve encountered are lifetime students of human nature, relentlessly focused on engaging the hearts and minds of their team members and forming a team environment where the landmines surrounding human interaction can be safely navigated.

These individuals take the time to cultivate their leadership and coaching skills. They develop confidence in delivering tough feedback and they work hard to create visibility for and support the development of their high performing team members.

And along the way, they create remarkable value for their firms, rescuing troubled projects and safely guiding even the most challenging of these activities to success.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Remember to put the “Leadership” into your firm’s project work. If you’re a project management professional, invest in your leadership skills development and put the tools to work to strengthen your performance and your team’s performance. If the project culture in your firm is more informal, remember to bring the leadership focus when it’s your turn to plan the holiday party or plan that new market launch.

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By | 2016-10-22T17:11:15+00:00 April 1st, 2014|Just One Thing, Leadership, Project Management|5 Comments

About the Author:

Art Petty is a coach, speaker and workshop presenter focusing on helping professionals and organizations learn to survive and thrive in an era of change. When he is not speaking, Art serves senior executives, business owners and high potential professionals as a coach and strategy advisor. Additionally, Art’s books are widely used in leadership development programs. To learn more or discuss a challenge, contact Art.


  1. Bentley Buxton April 3, 2014 at 12:24 am - Reply

    Leaders are like parents, where the team (the children) will emulate the parent. When you have a leader that is strong and a people person, the team will be a strong goal achieving unit. Much like a strong parent that has a developed an achieving and rounded family unit.

  2. Ian Johnson infinite group April 4, 2014 at 1:50 am - Reply

    Great Post..! If we start cultivating our leadership skills, moving up will be much easier. We should realize how many times you provide guidance at work, it would be easy to realize you are a leader no matter what your current position.

  3. Robert Andrews April 21, 2014 at 12:04 pm - Reply

    You made a good excellent points but I like this on the most: : “It’s generally not the misapplication of project management tools or practices that are at the source of the problems. Most often, it’s the absence any visible form of project leadership.”

    Very true. The reason for this I’ve found in many projects is that most managers and or leaders don’t understand project management much less how to apply it. Not many leaders go through project management training. So if the leaders don’t understand, the workers certainly aren’t going to understand.

    • Art Petty April 21, 2014 at 12:18 pm - Reply

      Robert, well said! Thanks for reading and commenting. -Art

  4. […] Increasingly, the work of organizations is completed in the form of projects, writes Art Petty. In this article, he looks at the growing need to cultivate project leadership skills as part of your leadership toolkit. Art Petty […]

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