What Makes a Good Project Leader?, The MDC Group

What Makes a Good Project Leader?

Skill to Look For

Choosing the ideal leader can make a huge difference to a project’s success. Understanding what makes a good leader is the first step to finding the right person to head up the next project. Group leadership requires a broad spectrum of skills ranging from technical know-how to human factors. In addition to project knowledge, an effective leader knows how to communicate clearly and graciously to everyone involved, delegate wisely, and manage time and resources well. The chosen individual must understand the project’s goals and parameters to lead a group successfully. They must also make decisions ethically and inspire the team to work together towards their common goals.

Project Knowledge & Understanding

The first qualification someone must fulfill is competency in the field involved. In other words, it doesn’t make sense to have a plumber lead an electrical project.  Looking at all the skills and knowledge needed to complete a project, assign a leader who knows something about most of them. While someone need not know how to accomplish every task, the more they understand, the easier it will be to plan, coordinate, and communicate. Team members will respect and follow someone who understands the project and everyone’s role in the process. While knowledge counts, an organization may not choose the person who has the most technical understanding because other leadership strengths are just as important.

Presenting a Vision—Establishing Goals

A group formed to complete a project or solve a problem must know what success will look like. A good group or project manager can present them with that vision and outline the steps needed to attain it. Creating and communicating a vision for the group is the first step toward team building in a positive work atmosphere. In addition to presenting a vision and project plan, a leader must understand and be able to explain the project’s relevance to the larger company goals.  Effective leaders are open to answering questions and listening to concerns to confirm that group members understand what is expected. A successful project depends on a leader’s ability to clearly present a project vision and motivate everyone to work together to deliver it.

Delegation—Assignment and Accountability

A good leader gets to know the team members assigned to the project and understands their skill levels and strengths. By assigning tasks and setting deadlines while still being open to feedback and suggestions, a leader can avoid misunderstandings and project delays. Being flexible and willing to make adjustments to fit individual team member availability and capabilities better will help with both cooperation and accountability.

Once assignments are made, a leader knows how to stand back and let things happen without intrusion. Knowing how to track progress without annoying and interrupting workflows includes setting specific check-in times and parameters. Regular short progress meetings or written reports can often be all that’s needed. A more intrusive or heavy-handed group leader, who feels it necessary to look over everyone’s shoulder, conveys a lack of trust and slows down the work. Good leaders trust their people.

Creative Problem Solving— Empathetic Conflict Resolution

Every project encounters snags and obstacles, and any group of people working together can sometimes have conflicting opinions. Whether resources turn out to be insufficient, planning has not been perfect, or communication has broken down, a good project leader can guide the group towards solutions. Group leaders need to understand the human factor, be able to calm the waters, and know how to defuse conflict. A creative solution means listening to everyone involved and considering suggestions because, usually, the people involved have the answer to the problem.  Once the best solution is found, explaining what’s to be done and why it’s the best way forward can go a long way towards keeping things moving smoothly.

Ethical, Merit-Based Decision-Making

Group leaders are human, making them susceptible to favoritism and pre-conceived ideas about people. A good group leader sets prejudices aside and assigns work based on individual qualifications and project goals. Expecting more work from people they know well because they feel more comfortable asking can damage relationships and interfere with the group’s cooperative dynamic. On the opposite side of things, they also can’t give out more enjoyable assignments only to friends. Work assignments should be made equitably, and unless someone has good reason to object, a leader should stand firm on decisions. Someone managing the project should also be ready to step in and help anywhere they’re needed, especially if coordinating and overseeing isn’t a full-time job. A leader helping out bolsters team spirit and its sense of camaraderie.

Regular and Clear Vertical Communications

No matter how a company is structured, a good project leader should be responsible for reporting on the project to everyone who needs to be in the loop, from company owners to managers and group members. Besides keeping open communication with everyone working on the project, a leader should know how to keep management and other departments apprised of progress and problems. Part of communicating effectively is considering how delays or changes affect others in the company and knowing what information should be shared. Neglecting to keep needed information flowing to everyone concerned doesn’t work, but neither does sending a barrage of unnecessary messages. When problems or questions arise, it’s important to have good judgment about when to ask for help and when to work the issue out within the team. Just like with oversight, reporting can be as needed and informal or through regular meetings or reports. Establishing a system, in the beginning, helps keep things running smoothly.

Choose an Effective Group Leader

When choosing someone to head up a project or problem, look for someone who will understand the processes and skills needed to accomplish the group’s goals. Consider the person’s ability to communicate and inspire others. An effective leader knows how to listen to others and take advantage of the skills and knowledge of all team members.  They check in often enough to keep others informed but not so frequently that it interferes with workflow and progress. They pitch in when needed while keeping an eye on the big picture.

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