Project Management and Leadership – can you have one without the other?

Andrew Trainer
Andrew Trainer

This is a guest post by Andy Trainer of Silicon Beach Training.

Project management is a field that is becoming increasingly valued within both large and small organizations – our project management training has never been so much in demand! It’s now widely recognized that having employees with great project management skills leads to more efficient processes, better uses of time, and less wastage than without.

Companies tend to adopt a project management method such as PRINCE2® to ensure that everyone works to the same framework.

Beyond training in how to define and execute a project and how to form a team, there are a number of other skills that contribute to success as a project manager. They need extensive industry knowledge, technical aptitude and good time management in order to make sure the project objective is achieved.

Leadership skills are also crucial for project management – but so often overlooked or taken for granted.

Leadership skills and management skills are different things and, especially within the project management industry, it’s important to be aware of the differences. Just as a promotion to manager doesn’t automatically mean someone can motivate their team, an appointment to project manager doesn’t make someone a project leader. So what are the differences?

Leadership without Project Management

Project management is a mechanism for change. It’s a way of defining and achieving goals by tightly controlled structure and delivery. So, no matter how strong someone’s leadership skills are, a project manager needs knowledge of the tools and techniques of the specific framework being used.

Without this, there’s a risk of miscommunications with colleagues, sponsors and the rest of the Project Board.

A natural leader will still need to have guidance on how to manage, just as managers need insights into how to lead.

Project Management without Leadership

The role of the Project Manager depends on being able to assign tasks to a competent and willing team. The project manager will therefore need buy-in from her team. This buy-in relies on leadership skills such as coherence and vision.

A project manager needs the others on the team to see this vision and believe in it. Without giving people a vision, they may not understand what they are working towards – and they may not be motivated to work as hard towards it.

A manager without leadership skills will not only have their decisions/instructions questioned more often but will find it less easy to defend them. A coherent leader will express their views clearly and will be able to provide easy explanations and defence if questioned.

Providing this coherent argument for the vision means the project manager will instill confidence in her project team. This will make it easier to meet challenges presented during the project – the team will be happy that they can trust their leader, and the manager will find it easier to rely on others to get the job done.

Leadership and Project Management together

It’s been said that managers work with processes and leaders work with people (The 360 Degree Leader, Maxwell, 2005). Managers organize, leaders inspire. Effective project management relies on being able to do both of these things so, without strong leadership skills, it’s difficult to be a great project manager.

Training in project management frameworks and techniques will give you the knowledge and skills to run all aspects of a project – but learning leadership skills will really set you apart from the field.

About the author:

Andy Trainer works for Silicon Beach Training, leading providers of resources and courses in a number of subjects, including project management, leadership skills and more.

A version of this article first appeared on this site in 2012.