Project Practitioners > Back to The Future: Leadership

Back to The Future: Leadership

By Chris Cook, PMP

READ TIME: 5 minutes


In the modern workplace, much emphasis is placed on technical skills and knowledge. However, with the onset of advanced technologies, soft skills are becoming more and more critical to maintaining clear communication and positive human interaction on project teams and amongst stakeholders.

Project management is people management, and teamwork and motivation continue to prove vital to project success. While navigating complex projects and team dynamics, today’s project managers are often inundated with emails, texts, and all sorts of notifications, leading to information overload and interruptions.

In the spirit of returning to the fundamentals, this article will present an approach to Leadership that project managers can use to be successful in the ever-evolving technological landscape.

What are the traits of a great leader?



If you do not ask, the answer is always no. Being assertive does not mean running around spouting off at the mouth making it your way or the highway. It means standing up for yourself, your team, and your organization.

A plumber submits an invoice that is 20% higher than his estimate. You know the owner is going to push back as well as the contractor. You are stuck between a rock and a hard place. Assertiveness takes this difficult situation and makes it manageable.

You offer a price breakdown of the plumber’s work to the owner of the time and materials along with the tasks performed to give the owner an understanding of why the price increase. You may have to agree to disagree with the owner.

You will feel guilty at times because you are being difficult to work with to get what you want. With practice, that feeling dissipates. It never goes away but gets easier to accept. A leader also asserts him- or herself into that role. There is no knighting process in front of the world that makes you a leader. You take and accept that role.



Change is inevitable. Job descriptions, roles, teams, projects, scopes, budgets, and so on. All of these change at some point. To deal with change, you must acquire skills. Staying in one lane for decades makes you vulnerable to change.

Learning how to estimate, how to perform simple mechanical tasks, and more technical skills that your team possesses makes you stronger and more adaptable. Mastering multiple skills is difficult, but having a general knowledge of many aspects of your industry is within reach.

You do not need how to perform surgery, but you must have an understanding of the setup of the room and which tools are needed for the majority of surgeries can help you be better. Personally, my technical skills for maintenance are little to none yet I manage maintenance for hundreds of properties. I rely on the technicians to guide me as to what needs to be done and when.

Over time, I start to gain a general understanding of what they do and how they do it. This small understanding helps me manage better when an emergency presents itself. Having multiple skills helps you adapt to the different crews as well.

You can use their language when discussing their work.



Intelligence is not always about book smarts. Project managers do not need to know calculus to be successful. If you do, my hat’s off to you. Problem-solving ability, spatial manipulation, and language acquisition are examples of general intelligence that benefit project managers.

However, interpersonal intelligence is as important. Understanding how to interact with those around you effectively and entertain multiple perspectives makes you stand out from the group. Many people can stare at a computer screen and put pieces together to make something work. How you do that and communicate it is the difference.

Understanding that Friday afternoons are not the best time to start a new task that makes someone travel a half hour away from home when they were close to home on the previous task is not a great option to build chemistry. Having someone start West, drive East, to go back West to perform multiple tasks is not good either.

Crew members in the field performing the work do not have the same appreciation for note taking and documentation that a project manager has. If it is not simple, they will not do it. The greatest spreadsheet on Earth is not effective if left blank or partially filled out.

Being able to stress the importance of documentation without boring the crew to death or making them even more confused is a skill. The interpersonal intelligence gets them to fill out the paperwork they have never done before and with efficiency.



The ‘Big Five’ traits for psychologists are openness, extraversion, agreeableness, neuroticism, and conscientiousness. Being conscientious means you have an awareness of the impact your behavior has on others.

Some people have a way with words that seem to offend no matter what the information is. They could tell you “Great job!” but it comes off inauthentic and almost rude. Other times, they deliver criticism with such a sharp edge it cuts way deeper than it should.

Conscientious people are more goal oriented, ambitious in academics and work, and more comfortable when prepared and organized. They want to do well and care about the results. They know if they do their job well, it makes others’ jobs easier.

Self-awareness relates to interpersonal intelligence. You can recognize when something is too harsh or not enough and adapt your wording to that scenario. Not everyone takes criticism or direction the same. You have to mold your message to the receiver and be conscientious of how they receive.



How to get better at these characteristics? Practice, practice, practice.

For some, these traits come naturally. They are not afraid to ask, they stand up for themselves, they receive information and apply it quickly, and they are aware of their actions and their impacts on others. For most, these characteristics are foreign and need to be developed.

Like with any skill, it takes time to hone. Some days you will be too assertive and come off poorly. Other days, you will be timid and get stepped on. These failures help to hone each attribute. The small wins help to show the progression.

Leaders cannot be afraid to fail in front of an audience. The failure is not the important part. The response is. How you bounce back from putting yourself out there shows your leadership or lack thereof.

Your team looks to you for guidance. They need a leader. Be that person.

Not all comments are posted. Posted comments are subject to editing for clarity and length.

The comments to this entry are closed.

©Copyright 2000-2017 Emprend, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
About us   Site Map   View current sponsorship opportunities (PDF)
Contact us for more information or e-mail
Terms of Service and Privacy Policy

Stay Connected
Get our latest content delivered to your inbox, every other week. New case studies, articles, templates, online courses, and more. Check out our Newsletter Archive for past issues. Sign Up Now

Follow Us!
Linked In Facebook Twitter RSS Feeds

Got a Question?
Drop us an email or call us toll free:
7am-5pm Pacific
Monday - Friday
We'd love to talk to you.

Learn more about ProjectConnections and who writes our content. Want to learn more? Compare our membership levels.