Author: Grant Mitchell, P.E. Process Plus Director of Project Management
January 6, 2014

In the last blog written about project managers (‘So…You want to be a PM?’), we discussed how the title of a Project Manager could be Project Leader. It was stated that Project Managers must be good leaders. (You lead people and manage systems.) Have you ever heard anyone state “this manager / leader / boss was able to really get results.” So exactly what did this person do? What differentiates them from mediocre leaders? Many people assume that leadership is based on one’s personality rather than making a strategic choice based on the demands of a particular situation. Research has proven that the most successful leaders use a combination of styles to achieve excellent results. (Goleman, 2000).

There are six basic leadership styles that need to be considered. Each works best in particular situations and can set the tone for achieving excellence on a project:

1. Coercive Style – This is a “do what I say” approach and is most effective when operating in crisis mode. This style can come off as very dictatorial and should be used sparingly because it can quickly dampen a team member’s motivation.

2. Authoritative Style – This style suggests the team member “come with me” approach. This approach defines the overall goal but empowers people to choose the means of achieving it.

3. Affiliative Style – The affiliative style places people first. This style builds team harmony and employee morale.

4. Democratic Style – This gives team members a voice but this style can also come at the expense of endless meetings and team members feeling leaderless.

5. Pacesetter Style – This style has a tendency to come off as dominating by setting and living to high standards. Team members that are self-motivated and highly competent accept this style as positive, while others may see the style as overwhelming and frustrating due to unrealistic expectations.

6. Coaching Style – This style focuses on individual development. It works well for team members that are aware of their weaknesses, but doesn’t when they are resistant to changing their ways.

So which style do you use to influence others? To run your project on any given day? Your personality may suggest that you focus on one style. I contend that the more styles you master, as conditions dictate, will be the basis for excellence as a Project Manager (Leader).

Projects are in a constant state of flux and Project Leaders must be able to adapt based on the situation at hand. To be a great Project Leader, one must be able to determine the best style to use based on the specific situation and at the right time.

1. Goleman, D. 2000. Leadership That Gets Results. Harvard Business Review. (pgs. 3-11).