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Project Management Leadership Styles: Who What and Why?

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Who are the different types of project management leaders? What are their motivations for the way that they behave? Why would they choose to apply this style of project management leadership as opposed to a different one?

In this article, we have a lot of questions to answer. Let’s get going.


Autocratic leaders

We start off these profiles with the autocratic leader, or as some people like to say, the dictator. This historical villain is in control of all of the decision-making responsibilities and has no time or interest in the input of other group members.

There are several reasons why this leadership style gets chosen, and it usually comes down to a combination of ego, self-belief, and power.

 Fortunately, this type of leader is not doing so well in modern business, especially on projects, which are naturally team-based and require cooperative skills.

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Directing leaders

High directive and low supportive behavior is often the cause of friction on project management teams, so a directing leader doesn’t fare much better than the autocrat or dictator. Rather than be focused on power and dominance, a directing leader is highly committed to completing tasks efficiently, taking very little time to work on personal relationships and team chemistry.

The project manager gives out the orders and the team members must follow, without deviating, which is beneficial for inexperienced and new members, but frustrating for team members who already know their roles proficiently.

Democratic leaders

Sometimes known as the participative style, this is the leader who places value and trust in their team and unselfishly relinquishes some of the creative control, thought processing power, and project management to them.

Democratic leaders understand that a project will run more effectively if the team have bought into it, and in order for them to take some ownership of the project and execute the decisions and plans to reach the ultimate goal, they have to feel like they helped form the vision.

Laissez-faire leaders

It takes a great deal of trust (or apathy) for a laissez-faire leader to do what they do, and that’s because it’s the complete opposite of autocratic leadership. Laissez-faire is French for ‘let do’ or basically, leave it alone.

This hands-off approach means letting things happen with very little interference, allowing the project team members to make the decisions for themselves.

The vision and objectives of the project must be very well communicated at the start for this to be successful.

Whilst on the outside, it might appear that laissez-faire leaders don’t do very much, in fact, they are wonderful recruiters who build effective teams, they’re supportive and resourceful when called upon, and they are confident in a way that inspires confidence in others.

Servant leaders

A servant leader again operates at the opposite end of the spectrum to the autocrat, this time putting all of their own wants and needs secondary to the wants and needs of the people on their team.

For a servant leader to be successful they must:

  • Distribute their power and place it firmly in the hands of their team members
  • Encourage the development of their team members on a regular basis
  • Be genuine and sincere about building confidence in those involved in the project
  • Empower those under their leadership to perform at their full capacity
  • Be a keen listener who shows empathy to their audience
  • Be aware of what is going on by getting briefed regularly
  • Suppress their own ego whilst stewarding the project forward

Transactional leaders

You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” is the core message of transactional leadership, which promotes compliance and success through a system of rewards and punishments (the carrot and the stick).

This style is proven to be effective for motivating those working on short projects, where team members can work together to sprint to the finish, but it is not so effective for a marathon-style project, where long term goals must be observed.

A transactional leader will be rigidly in favour of rules, processes, and procedures, and will use their reward and punishment system to bring everyone else in line. Expect daily briefings.

Transformational leaders

This is one of the preferred modern-day leadership styles, as it is very comforting to team members who have a leader whose style is entirely based around encouraging, inspiring, and motivating employees to transform themselves.

These leaders want their team members to become passionate about innovation and making a change from within, allowing them to be the driving force behind the way in which the company progresses and finds success.

A transformational leader is willing to:

  • Take risks
  • Entertain brave new ideas
  • Be accountable for difficult decisions

These skills are hugely important for modern leaders, especially in the startup space, where being strong at these three things can prove to be an enormous market advantage.

Interactional leaders

An interactional leader is a hybrid of transformational and transactional leaders, yet with even more charisma.

These leaders look at the variables, such as the working environment, company culture, market challenges, conflicts and complexities, and the influence of leaders on the business.

Taking all of these into account, the interactional leader uses their hybrid skills and positioning to demonstrate that their influence is used best when individuals interact with certain situations.

By developing this relationship with face-to-face contact, reminders of company vision, and the direct relaying of information, teams can progress faster on their projects.

In conclusion

Now that we’ve assessed these eight different leader types, you might want to ask yourself which you’d like to be.

Are you looking to march boldly towards project completion without a care for your team and their well being? Do you want to empower and embolden those around you?

Are you willing to make huge sacrifices and dote on every want and need of your team members?

Perhaps, this is not a choice you can make, and your leadership style may simply boil down to your personality.

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