How to Improve Leadership Skills as a Project Manager

As a project manager, a typical workday involves juggling a lot of tasks. Overseeing different timelines and milestones. Solving problems and proactively addressing bottlenecks.

Those logistics are important, but you also know that there’s a lot more to successful project management than coordinating those details. In order to do your job (and do it well), you also need to know how to effectively lead people.

Whether you have a formal leadership title or not, running a project means you have to be able to motivate, encourage, and support all of your different team members.

That’s not always easy (in fact, it rarely is). That’s where this post comes in. We’re breaking down some must-know tips to help you figure out how to improve leadership skills as a project manager so you can show your team that you’re a reliable leader who wants to help them (and the project!) succeed. 

How to improve leadership skills (and ace that project): 5 tips to implement

First of all, what are leadership skills? You’ll find tons of different definitions out there, but we like to think of them as the competencies you’ll rely on when uniting and rallying people around a shared goal (like that project objective, for example). That means leadership skills can run the gamut from communication and problem-solving to empathy and dependability. 

But effective leadership skills aren’t something that just happen. Improving leadership skills requires a conscious effort. 

So how do you go about making this happen? Below are 5 different ways to improve your leadership skills and get that project over the finish line. 

1. Go the extra mile to understand your team

In order to lead your team through a project, you need to start by understanding each of your team members. No, that doesn’t just mean knowing their coffee order or their preferred lunch takeout spot. You need to dive in and comprehend the nitty gritty details of how they prefer to work and communicate.

Where should you start? People who possess solid leadership and management skills understand the following about each of their team members:

  • Strengths: What areas do they excel in?
  • Weaknesses: What areas do they struggle with?
  • Motivators: What keeps them inspired and focused?
  • Preferred Recognition: How do they like to be rewarded and recognized?

There isn't a one-size-fits-all leadership method. All of your team members are unique. For example, employees respond to different incentives and motivations at work — ranging from career development to being assigned more challenging tasks and projects.

Having the above information under your belt allows you to tailor your communication style and leadership approach to best resonate with your team. 

Not only does that help you enhance leadership skills, but it also leads to a higher-performing and happier team. Research from Gallup shows that people who use their strengths every day are six times more likely to be engaged at work. Yet only 34% of managers can confidently name the strengths of their direct reports.

Put this to work

Leadership improvement actually all starts with knowing how to improve leadership communication skills. 

Get started by having regular 1-on-1 conversations with your project team members. If you don’t already have those recurring discussions scheduled, get them on the calendar so you have a routine opportunity to connect about their ambitions, strengths, and challenges. 

It can also be helpful to offer a team-wide personality assessment such as Myers-Briggs or StrengthsFinder to get a better understanding of what makes your team tick. Those insights will not only be helpful to you but to all of your team members as they continue to collaborate with one another. 

2. Give context to project goals

Nothing will frustrate a project team more than feeling like they’re just another cog in the wheel. They crank out project after project without any real understanding of why the work they’re doing matters. 

Unfortunately, it’s a common problem. According to research from Harvard Business Review, a whopping 95% of employees admit that they don’t actually understand their company’s strategy.

As the leader of the project, it’s your job to arm your team with the details and context they need to see the forest and not just the trees. Doing so not only gives them a better understanding of the overall project objective but also a greater sense of purpose. 

That sense of fulfillment is important for morale and motivation. In fact, 9 out of 10 people report that they’d actually be willing to earn less money if it meant they were able to do work that had more meaning. 

Put this to work

When you’re wondering how to increase leadership skills on any given project, the kickoff meeting is a great place to start. 

During this initial conversation, you need to be prepared to provide a thorough explanation of not only what the project is but also the impact it’s intended to have. How does this project connect to and support the overarching organizational objectives?

Don’t think that you only need to draw these parallels once. You should continually refer back to these larger goals as the project moves forward so the endgame stays fresh in the minds of your team members and continues to motivate them.

This also speaks to the importance of a collaborative work management platform (like Wrike!) that increases transparency and makes it easy for all team members to understand how their individual contributions fit into the bigger picture. 

3. Actively solicit feedback

Imagine that your team has just wrapped up a major project. Now what? Like most project teams, you immediately move on to the next project in the hopper.

That ambition is admirable, but it also doesn’t leave you or your team much time to engage in the process and identify what’s working well and what isn’t.

That’s why people with good leadership skills (whether they’re in a formal position of power or not) understand the importance of actively soliciting feedback. These leaders recognize that their team members are the ones who are in the weeds with the project so they have the best insight into how things can be changed or improved.

It makes sense, right? Yet 34% of employees worldwide think that their company doesn’t actually listen to their suggestions for making things better at work. As a result, way too many people have stopped speaking up. Almost half of survey respondents in one Quantum Workplace report admit that they don’t speak their mind at work. 

Put this to work

Anybody who’s eager to know how to improve leadership skills in the workplace needs to understand the value of an open-door policy that allows project team members to share their feedback and constructive criticism. 

But beyond remaining accessible to team members, you also need to actively encourage this level of sharing. Build time into your project kickoff and wrap-up meetings so you and the entire group can reflect and brainstorm together.

This gives everyone the wiggle room they need to voice their opinions about how the next project can run even smoother without feeling like a nuisance or delaying the timeline. 

4. Trust your team members

You’re the one who keeps the schedule and obsesses over all of the project details. It’s an important role, but it also makes it far too easy to micromanage your entire team.

Be forewarned: That’s a major complaint among employees about their leaders. A reported 69% of employees have actually considered changing jobs because they were micromanaged by their bosses.

That’s why one of the best leadership skills you can possess is recognizing when it’s time to just get out of your team’s way. Your job is to equip them with the information and context they need and then let them do what they do best.

Admittedly, that’s something that doesn’t come as naturally when you’re the one who’s tasked with keeping every last thing on track. 

Put this to work

Understanding the strengths of your team (remember that tip from above?) will go a long way in reassuring you that you don’t need to check in constantly.

You should also set some regularly scheduled check-ins (whether they’re individual or with the entire project team) so you can stay in the loop on project progress without constantly stopping by desks or popping into inboxes. During these meetings, make sure to ask questions about how things are progressing rather than constantly issuing directives or criticisms.

Finally, this is another time when a collaborative work management platform can be beneficial. It provides increased visibility for you and drives accountability for your entire team without you having to micromanage anything. See for yourself by getting started with a free trial of Wrike

5. Lead by example

When it comes to the answer to the age-old how to improve leadership skills in business question, we’ll boil it down to our simplest response: Lead by example.

You and your team probably have some ground rules established to ensure projects run seamlessly — from keeping communication centralized to always honoring deadlines. But you can’t very well expect everyone else to abide by those guidelines if you don’t yourself.

Ultimately, there’s nothing worse than a “Do as I say and not as I do leader,” which is why this final tip is the most important leadership-boosting behavior of them all. 

Put this to work

This tip is simple in theory but far more difficult in practice. You need to hold yourself to the same standard and conduct yourself in the way that you want your own team members to behave. There aren’t exceptions for you as the project manager.

As part of your increased effort to solicit feedback, encourage your project team to call you out if they ever see you contradicting or disobeying a guideline. That will help you catch any slip-ups that you might otherwise have missed. 

Better leadership means a better project

Being an effective project manager isn’t only about coordinating the details. You also need to know how to manage and motivate the people on your project team. That requires some pretty solid leadership skills.

For any project manager who’s trying to figure out how to improve their leadership quality, the above five tactics can help you earn the trust and respect of your team. To recap, you can boost your leadership skills by:

  • Getting to know the ins and outs of how your team members work and communicate
  • Providing context around project goals
  • Actively soliciting feedback from project team members on how to improve your leadership skills
  • Trusting your team members to do their jobs well (without micromanagement)
  • Leading by example in all of your responsibilities and interactions

Do those things, and you’ll make strides in being viewed as a leader — and not just the project paper pusher. 

Looking for a tool that supports great projects and even better leaders? Try Wrike today

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