Characteristics of a Good Project Leader

It’s doubtful that many of us have worked for just one manager during our professional careers. In fact, you’ve probably worked for 5-10 different managers, possibly more. Many were probably forgettable, one or more may have been horrible. But there were probably one or two that really stood out for you – ones you looked up to and admired and had qualities you definitely wanted to exemplify in your own professional behavior. They likely are the ones who were very interested in seeing you do your best work, took time to you’re your trust, and knew that you needed to be able to rely on them – when necessary – in order to be at your creative best.

Managers like these work hard at displaying consistent behavior. They follow through on promises, commitments, and decisions.  With these types of managers, we can always feel confident that we know where we stand, they aren’t likely to display erratic behavior, and they give credit where credit is due (and criticism, when necessary and beneficial). With these individuals - as long as we are staying on track - then we can rely on them and know that they will be there to back us up. I hope you’ve had at least a couple of managers like this along the way….I know I have and they have helped mold me into the confident and productive Project Manager and consultant that I am today.

If these are the types of managers that good project managers should also be, then how does that translate into the PM role and how we provide leadership to our project team members?

Do what you say, follow through

As a leader or significant contributor to a team, everything depends on what assumptions people can make of you. When you say "I will get this done by tomorrow" or "I will talk to person ‘x’ and get that taken care of," the other people in the room will make silent calculations, about the probability that what you say will turn out to be true based on what they know about you from experience. Over time, if you serve your team well, those odds should be very high. They will take you at your word and place their trust in you. But it’s up to you to do what you say you will do…choose your words carefully and follow through. Those words and how you act upon them become a very important part of your reputation as a manager and leader.

Real leadership isn’t nearly as complex and dramatic as it is often portrayed to be. It involves very real behavior that you would also expect of any one of your team members:

  • accept responsibilities

  • admit when you’re wrong

  • share success

  • follow through

  • under promise and over deliver (careful not to under promise too much – you still want to be accurate…otherwise that trust factor will come back to haunt you)

If decisions impact others, ask for their input whenever possible. Enlist the opinions and ideas of others in decisions that impact them. These aren’t mind-blowing revelations – they’re just good leadership practices. Practice them and you’ll likely be seen as a good project leader and followed by your team.

Display big picture leadership

To be a good project manager – even a good technical project manager - you do not need to be the best programmer, planner, architect, communicator, designer, or anything else. You do, however, need to exemplify consistent and trustworthy behavior to your project team members. Throughout the engagement, they need to be looking to the project manager for all communication, guidance, direction, and advice. In order to gain that following and ensure they are focused on what you are telling them, assigning to them, and expecting of them, it is of utmost importance they know where they stand with you and that they can rely on you to ‘have their back’ so to speak.

Remember, you’re there to manage the project, but also to be their voice while they are doing ‘heads down work’ on the project. You’re the leader, negotiator, motivator, communicator, educator, and disciplinarian all wrapped up into one project management role. To be a good leader to this team you’ve been given, you must learn how to find, build, earn, and grant trust and exemplify the behavior that will keep that trust and following going throughout the project engagement and help secure your reputation in the organization as a solid project leader.



Brad Egeland is a Business Solution Designer and IT/PM consultant and author with over 25 years of software development, management, and project management experience leading initiatives in Manufacturing, Government Contracting, Gaming and Hospitality, Retail Operations, Aviation and Airline, Pharmaceutical, Start-ups, Healthcare, Higher Education, Non-profit, High-Tech, Engineering and general IT. Brad is married, a father of 9, and living in sunny Las Vegas, NV. Visit Brad’s site at

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