Chapter 3 – Project Manager as a Leader

3.3. Project Manager Characteristics

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The project manager must be perceived to be credible by the project team and key stakeholders. A successful project manager can solve problems and has a high degree of tolerance for ambiguity. On projects, the environment changes frequently, and the project manager must apply the appropriate leadership approach for each situation.

The successful project manager must have good communication skills. All project problems are connected to skills needed by the project manager:

  • Breakdown in communication represents the lack of communication skills
  • Uncommitted team members represent a lack of team-building skills
  • Role confusion represents the lack of organizational skill

Project managers need a large number of skills. These skills include administrative skills, organizational skills, and technical skills associated with the technology of the project. The types of skills and the depth of the skills needed are closely connected to the complexity profile of the project. Typically, on smaller, less complex projects, project managers need a greater degree of technical skill. On larger, more complex projects, project managers need more organizational skills to deal with the complexity. On smaller projects, the project manager is intimately involved in developing the project schedule, cost estimates, and quality standards. On larger projects, functional managers are typically responsible for managing these aspects of the project, and the project manager provides the organizational framework for the work to be successful.


One of the most important communication skills of the project manager is the ability to actively listen. Active listening is placing oneself in the speaker’s position as much as possible, understanding the communication from the point of view of the speaker, listening to the body language and other environmental cues, and striving not just to hear but to understand. Active listening takes focus and practice to become effective. It enables a project manager to go beyond the basic information that is being shared and to develop a more complete understanding of the information.


When multiple people are involved in an endeavour, differences in opinions and desired outcomes naturally occur. Negotiation is a process for developing a mutually acceptable outcome when the desired outcome for each party conflicts. A project manager will often negotiate with a client, team members, vendors, and other project stakeholders. Negotiation is an important skill in developing support for the project and preventing frustration among all parties involved, which could delay or cause project failure.

Negotiations Involve Four Principles

  1. Separate people from the problem. Framing the discussions in terms of desired outcomes enables the negotiations to focus on finding new outcomes.
  2. Focus on common interests. By avoiding the focus on differences, both parties are more open to finding solutions that are acceptable.
  3. Generate options that advance shared interests. Once the common interests are understood, solutions that do not match with either party’s interests can be discarded, and solutions that may serve both parties’ interests can be more deeply explored.
  4. Develop results based on standard criteria. The standard criterion is the success of the project. This implies that the parties develop a common definition of project success.

For the project manager to successfully negotiate issues on the project, they should first seek to understand the position of the other party. If negotiating with a client, what is the concern or desired outcome of the client? What are the business drivers and personal drivers that are important to the client? Without this understanding, it is difficult to find a solution that will satisfy the client. The project manager should also seek to understand what outcomes are desirable for the project. Typically, more than one outcome is acceptable. Without knowing what outcomes are acceptable, it is difficult to find a solution that will produce that outcome.

One of the most common issues in formal negotiations is finding a mutually acceptable price for a service or product. Understanding the market value for a product or service will provide a range for developing a negotiating strategy. The price paid on the last project or similar projects provides information on the market value. Seeking expert opinions from sources who would know the market is another source of information. Based on this information, the project manager can then develop an expected range within the current market from the lowest price to the highest price.

Additional factors will also affect the negotiated price. The project manager may be willing to pay a higher price to assure an expedited delivery or a lower price if delivery can be made at the convenience of the supplier or if payment is made before the product is delivered. Developing as many options as possible provides a broader range of choices and increases the possibility of developing a mutually beneficial outcome.

The goal of negotiations is not to achieve the lowest costs, although that is a major consideration, but to achieve the greatest value for the project. If the supplier believes that the negotiation process is fair and the price is fair, the project is more likely to receive higher value from the supplier. The relationship with the supplier can be greatly influenced by the negotiation process, and a project manager who attempts to drive the price unreasonably low or below the market value will create an element of distrust in the relationship that may have negative consequences for the project. A positive negotiation experience may create a positive relationship that may be beneficial, especially if the project begins to fall behind schedule and the supplier is in a position to help keep the project on schedule.

Conflict Resolution

Conflict on a project is to be expected because of the level of stress, lack of information during the early phases of the project, personal differences, role conflicts, and limited resources. Although good planning, communication, and team building can reduce the amount of conflict, conflict can still emerge. How the project manager deals with conflict results in the conflict being destructive or an opportunity to build energy, creativity, and innovation.

Conflict is the common side-effect of working in a team or group and will inevitably happen at any time of the project life cycle.  The sources of conflict in a team are generally related to:

  • Differences in personalities;
  • Undefined expectations;
  • Lack of communication;
  • Distrust between members of the team and
  • Competing priorities.

Sources of conflict can be turned into opportunities if handled appropriately. Some approaches to address conflict are:

  • Withdrawing from the conflict or avoiding the conflict altogether;
  • Forcing or competing;
  • Smoothing or accommodating;
  • Compromising (share the differences); and
  • Collaborating and confronting.

Each of these approaches can be effective and useful depending on the situation. Project managers will use each of these conflict resolution approaches depending on the project manager’s personal approach and an assessment of the situation. Most project managers have a default approach that has emerged over time and is comfortable. For example, some project managers find the use of the project manager’s power the easiest and quickest way to resolve problems. “Do it because I said to” is the mantra for project managers who use forcing as the default approach to resolving conflict. Some project managers find accommodating the client the most effective approach to dealing with client conflict. The effectiveness of a conflict resolution approach will depend on the situation. The forcing approach often succeeds in a situation where a quick resolution is needed, and the investment in the decision by the parties involved is low.

Adjusting Leadership Styles

Remember that personality traits reflect an individual’s preferences, not their limitations. It is important to understand that individuals can still function in situations for which they are not best suited. It is also important to realize that you can change your leadership style according to the needs of your team and the particular project’s attributes and scope.

For example, a project leader who is more thinking (T) than feeling (F) (according to the Myers-Briggs model) would need to work harder to be considerate of how team members who are more feeling (F) might react if they were singled out in a meeting because they were behind schedule (Myers, 1962).  If individuals know their own preferences and which personality types are most successful in each type of project or project phase, they can set goals for improvement in their ability to perform in those areas that are not their natural preference. Another individual goal is to examine which conflict resolution styles you are least comfortable with and work to improve those styles so that they can be used when they are more appropriate than your default style.

HR in Focus: Human Resources as a Trainer and Mentor

HR may provide training for the Project Manager in conflict resolution, negotiation skills and leadership development.  They may set up a mentorship for the Project Manager, especially if they are hired from outside the organization.  This would be a formal agreement between the Project Manager and an experienced person within the organization.  HR would establish a match, set up meetings between the parties, and discuss the goals of the protégé and how the mentor can help.  HR would monitor the progress of the mentor relationship.  Another example may be a relationship that is a peer mentor.  Another Project Manager who is experienced mentors the new Project Manager, and they create a support system to ensure the growth and development of the new Project Manager and ensure the success of the project.


Imagine yourself as a Project Manager of an HR Project that is going to impact the entire organization.  You have a diverse team from several different departments.  What do you think the top two characteristics are that you possess that you can bring to the team? Why?

12.4. Project Manager Characteristics” from Essentials of Project Management by Adam Farag is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.


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Strategic Project Management Copyright © 2022 by Debra Patterson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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