A Guide to Project Management Leadership Styles (With Tips)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published June 19, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Project managers play an important role in helping organizations attain their goals. Leading a project involves a variety of responsibilities, including developing plans, coordinating tasks, and supervising the project. You can motivate teams to achieve project objectives more efficiently by understanding the leadership styles in project management. In this article, we define project management leadership styles, explore the ten leadership styles of project management, and review a variety of tips.

What are project management leadership styles?

Project management leadership styles refer to how project leaders motivate their team members to achieve goals. Leadership styles commonly revolve around cultivating a culture of achievement and performance. Project managers may adopt various leadership styles depending on their personal, organizational, and environmental characteristics. For example, the project manager's values or desires, their team's values or desires, or the organization's culture may influence an individual's approach to leadership.

The purpose of project management is to meet goals within a project's parameters by applying methods, techniques, skills, knowledge, and experience. A project leader typically organizes resources, including the project's budget, schedule, and personnel, to achieve an objective. Effective project management leadership can maximize the chances of fulfilling all the project's goals, such as meeting deadlines, staying within budget, and satisfying quality standards.

Related: 9 Types of Management Styles for Effective Leadership

10 project management leadership styles

Learning about the different types of leadership styles and how to use them may help you improve your project management skills. The following are ten different types of project management leadership styles:

1. Laissez-faire

The laissez-faire leadership style involves letting the project team make project decisions, implement ideas, and determine project objectives. Laissez-faire leadership emphasizes the value of trust. The laissez-faire leadership style can be beneficial for organizations seeking innovation and creativity. This type of leader relies upon their employees' skills and experience to determine the structure and process of their work. An important aspect of being a great laissez-faire leader is listening to and learning from team members.

2. Participative or democratic

Team involvement and feedback are key components of participative or democratic leadership. It emphasizes group discussions, collaboration, and teamwork. Valuing the team member's voices and contributions can promote a work environment where team members feel empowered and encouraged. Team members have a lot of authority, and they contribute actively to the project's management. Many organizations, such as schools, businesses, and governments, can benefit from democratic leadership.

Related: Project Communication Management (Definition and Steps)

3. Coaching

Coaching leadership emphasizes identifying an individual's strengths and weaknesses to encourage long-term professional development. They set a professional development plan using this leadership style that considers the interests and motivations of the individual. A project leader helps employees reach their full potential by investing in their development. With a coaching leadership style, individuals can learn new skills and achieve higher performance levels. By assigning challenging tasks to team members, leaders inspire them to develop skills or gain new ones. Individuals who accept or seek feedback and feel motivated at work are more likely to benefit from coaching leadership.

4. Pacesetter

Pacesetter leadership promotes high standards, focusing on efficiency and achievement. A pacesetter holds their teams responsible for meeting expectations. The team leader may intervene or take on more responsibility to improve the performance of the team. This style may be beneficial for a team with tremendous motivation and competence in a fast-paced environment. Teams with individuals who understand their specific roles may benefit most from this style.

Related: What It Means to Lead by Example (And Leadership Styles)

5. Directive or autocratic

Project managers who demonstrate a directive or autocratic leadership style communicate clearly with others and make decisions alone or in small groups. Directive leaders help their teams meet project objectives by using clear expectations, direct communication, and corrective feedback. Autocratic leadership works best when a project has high stakes. Military organizations are an example of industries where directive leadership is essential for achieving mission objectives that may be dangerous or contain sensitive information. Directive leadership styles may also be useful for training new team members who excel with clear and specific feedback on their work.

6. Affiliative

The affiliative leadership style facilitates positive relationships between team members. It prioritizes the emotional well-being of individuals to strengthen team bonds. Affiliative leadership emphasizes the importance of individual needs and positive feedback to create a positive team culture. This leadership style is effective for enhancing morale, limiting conflict, and restoring trust in a project or goal. It can also strengthen communications among team members and develop good working relationships. Affiliative leaders focus on team development and offer praise. For example, an affiliative leader may organize an activity where team members get to know each other before beginning a project.

7. Transactional

Transactional leadership styles motivate teams efficiently during short-term projects. This leadership style focuses on clear goals, feedback, and ways to reward team members. A leader like this corrects a team when they deviate from the set objective. Project managers who follow this style of leadership adhere strictly to project rules, processes, and procedures. Using rewards systems in transactional leadership is a common method of re-aligning team members with project values.

Related: What Is a Project Management Plan? With Tips and Examples

8. Charismatic

Individuals who follow a charismatic leadership style have a magnetic and charismatic personality, and they possess strong, outward convictions. Characteristics of a charismatic leader include high energy, enthusiasm, firm beliefs, and a high level of self-confidence. The charismatic leader typically promotes innovations that relate to the project's goals. Using this leadership style in combination with other styles can help balance the strong character of a charismatic leader and increase its effectiveness.

9. Transformational

Project managers use the transformational leadership style to motivate their teams to reach ideal goals and to encourage positive change within the project environment. By implementing this style, a project manager encourages innovation, creativity, and individual consideration. Similar to the charismatic leadership style, transformational leadership focuses on inspiration. This leadership style focuses on motivating people to accomplish an organization's mission and vision. By implementing this style, you can build a committed, innovative, and enthusiastic team that can operate well without supervision.

Related: What Are Leadership Vision Statements? Definition and Examples

10. Interactional

Interactional leadership styles fluctuate depending on the situation, enabling the project manager to apply the most effective approach when necessary. Leaders with this style combine the qualities of transactional, transformative, and charismatic leadership. It's common for interactional leaders to evaluate a variety of factors related to the project, including the work environment, organizational culture, market changes, and the influence of other leaders.

Project management leadership tips

Here are some tips to help you improve your project management leadership skills:

  • Develop relationships with team members. One of the most valuable assets you have as a project leader is your team. By understanding each team member's interests, motivations, skills, and work habits, you can optimize their abilities and performance.

  • Establish measurable goals. Consider defining smaller, measurable goals to track your progress after outlining the major goals of your project. You can use these goals to divide larger objectives into smaller ones that are easier to achieve and manage.

  • Evaluate progress continuously. Make sure you regularly evaluate your team's progress as it strives to achieve project goals. Maintaining an awareness of your team's performance and identifying its strengths and weaknesses can help you adjust your strategy to meet the team's objectives quickly.

  • Make communication a priority. Maintaining constant communication with your team is essential to a productive and healthy working environment. Communicating may involve listening to and acting on feedback and performing performance evaluations to help team members develop an understanding of their strengths and weaknesses.

  • Increase your flexibility. It's important to adapt your leadership style to the situation, project, and team. Reviewing the various styles of leadership can help you decide which is most effective.

  • Keep learning and challenging yourself. By taking classes or attending conferences, you can make sure you're up-to-date on the most recent best practices within your area of expertise. You can make a positive impression on others by demonstrating your willingness to learn new skills as a leader.

  • Discuss leadership with the organization. You can improve your leadership effectiveness by identifying which types of leadership have made a difference for the organization in the past. Learning how to become a good leader in the specific environment you work in can help improve your success.

Related: 7 Essential Leadership Traits of an Effective Leader

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