Project Management Leadership Styles: Which One Are You?

You may be an official Project Manager or find yourself informally placed in that role. Either way, you will encounter people with different styles of working and communicating. To be successful, match your leadership style with the team dynamic with consideration for the type of project you’re working on.

I have some familiarity with this, having worked with various group dynamics that have required me to assume different leadership styles. There are many different type of leadership styles, but I will focus on the five most common.

Visionary

A visionary leader is someone with an overall strategy. This type of project manager can move people towards that vision without micro-managing or forcing them to take steps to get there. A visionary is charismatic and  compels the team to follow his or her lead. This person is willing to take strategic risks, especially when change is needed in a project. The dynamic of a project team will be impacted similarly if the project sponsor is a visionary type who inspires the team rather than micro-managing how each task is completed.

Coaching

A coaching leader will lead by nurturing team members.  This type of leader knows the team member’s skills, strengths, and weakness, and can delegate assignments appropriately. The team will be comfortable with their assignments, knowing that their leader has good reasons and their best interests in mind. The team will have implicit trust in this type of leader because the focus is on the individual relationship that is cultivated with each person.

Democratic

The most well-rounded of the leadership styles is the democratic leader. This project manager draws on the team members’ knowledge and skills and is able to create a group commitment to common goals. By ensuring that everyone is heard and by building relationships, the democratic leader pulls in the team’s commitment to work towards the project’s success. The democratic leader will be able to best utilize the team’s collective wisdom to bring the project to success.

Affiliatory

An affiliatory leader will focus on building relationships, promoting collaboration, and facilitating good communication. This type of leader is able to communicate effectively both verbally and non-verbally. By listening well, an affiliatory leader can bring a fractured team together and facilitate resolutions to allow the team to become effective again.

Commanding

A commanding leader uses a traditional, authoritative leadership style that involves giving clear and demanding directions to the team.  The commanding leader will not praise team members, but instead will remain cold and distant as s/he will instead criticize and order team members to do work. A such, this leadership style is not seen often, but can be extremely effective in a time of crisis for a project.

All of these styles are probably familiar to you in some shape or form. You may have also realized that you are not just one of these styles. You could be a mix of a few of them naturally, or you can choose to utilize a certain style at different points in your project. In my experience, it is the fluid leader, who can switch between the leadership styles as the situation calls for it, who is the most successful.

For example, when I have a team member who is behind on tasks, I use a mix of democratic and affiliative styles to work with the team member to understand why there is a delay and facilitate progress on the task. Working with my internal team, I draw on much more of a democratic and affiliative style as I have worked with everyone for a number of years. For clients, my tone will vary from commanding to affiliative, depending on project progress or their responsiveness. Ultimately, as the PM, you can control the team dynamic by the style of leadership you choose to employ. While you may have a natural leadership style, this does not mean you cannot pull from other styles to supplement how you work with your teams. What has been the most effective blend of leadership styles you’ve used?