Positive Leadership in Project Management

Value, Success and Twelve Factors for Effective Project Leadership.  Written by Frank P. Saladis PMP, reprinted with permission.

Success is something that all project managers and teams strive for. The question is “How do you define success?” I have heard quite a few definitions and some that would not likely be found in a dictionary. A quick check on the definition of success resulted in the following:

1. The favorable or prosperous termination of attempts or endeavors.
2. The attainment of wealth, position, honors, or the like.
3. The successful performance or achievement: The project was an overwhelming success!

The definition of project success depends largely upon on whom you are asking. Another way to say it would be that project success is in the eye of the beholder. Regardless of personal opinion and viewpoint, the project manager and the client MUST work together, collaborate and agree on the definition of success at the onset of the project. In the book “Value-Driven Project Management,” Dr. Harold Kerzner Ph.D. and Frank P. Saladis PMP, John Wiley and Sons and IIL co-publishers, (yes, I am a co-author and I am very proud of this book) project success is achieved when planned business values are met. These values include Internal Value, Financial Value, Future Value, and Customer Related Value.

Many project managers and organization executives start the discussion about success with the triple constraint – the balancing of Time, Cost, and Performance Specifications (or quality in some literature) and the need to complete projects on time, within budget and according to scope but success is generally determined by how the intended end user or client sees the outcome and whether or not the project’s product or service is actually used or fulfills its intended purpose. My favorite definition of success is a quote I saw on a training room wall at a client location in New York City. The quote read “You know your client is satisfied when he or she sees you on caller I.D. and still picks up!”

Success relates to customer satisfaction and what the client perceives success to be. Client satisfaction is clearly important but project leaders must be able to assess success from several different perspectives. These other perspectives relate to the human experience associated with the project (teamwork, leadership, recognition, acknowledgment) and the value the project will provide to both the client and the supplier in the short and long term.

  • If the client is pleased with the results or the project and commends you for your ability to get things done but your team never wants to work with you again would you consider it a successful project?
  • If you delivered the project on time, on budget and within specifications but have to take several weeks off to recover from lack of sleep, stress-related ailments, or other health-related issues is that project success?
  • If you miss several important family events and your family members haven’t spoken to you in weeks would you think that the project was truly successful?
  • If the project is delivered according to specifications and the product is not used, is that success?
  • If a project delivers a result and the benefits are not seen immediately, does that indicate failure?

Project managers do have to make some sacrifices occasionally and the organization’s executives will also have to share in some of the discomforts that may be experienced when delivering projects and managing portfolios. It goes with the job. Most projects experience some problems and additional cost or time or requirements changes can be expected.  It is important for all key project stakeholders to understand that there will be some setbacks, some need to change the plan and a few occasions where compromise will be required or where someone will have to give up something in the interest of the greater good of the project and the organizations involved. There should be some balance between all of the elements and factors that determine exactly how success is defined.

When discussing project success criteria or Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) especially in today’s economic environment, the subject of value should be included. Of particular importance are the Foundation Values and Strategic or Innovative Values. According to Dr. Kerzner, Foundation Values include teamwork, communications, cooperation, collaboration, and trust. These values, when recognized and encouraged, create an environment where organizational effectiveness is nurtured and can grow rapidly. Strategic or Innovative Values include maintaining a degree of market share, brand recognition, and protection, satisfying government regulations, ethical conduct, maintaining a corporate image, intellectual property and creating a leadership position within the industry. Building a reputation of sustained competency and innovative thinking are also key areas associated with Strategic Values. We can add to that list the need to include a mindset of sustainability. This means working not only to manage the organization more effectively which will improve the probability of continued presence in the market but to work smarter and with an eye on the ecology as well. The value associated with a sustainable future has become a key factor in how society views an organization.

We all know that every project is unique and that there is no one sure method to achieve project success but there are some items that most project managers will accept as key steps to project success. While reading the book “The Field Guide To Project Management, 2nd Edition, John WileySons, edited by David Cleland I was inspired by chapter 2 written by Jeffery K.Pinto – The Elements of Project Success. Mr. Pinto provides a Ten Factor Success Model for projects. I adapted the model to focus on project leadership and added two additional factors. This model touches on what I think many project managers will agree are key areas for effective leadership and increasing the probability of achieving success.

Twelve Factors of Project Leadership and Creating Value

Lists and templates (also known as organizational process assets) provide an effective method for developing strategies and plans. Most project management offices and centers of excellence maintain a number of standard templates and resources to ensure consistency in project implementation. These templates and lists help to organize a thought process and can be very effective when working with a team to brainstorm ideas or establish a direction. A list of items that may be useful to the practicing project manager is provided in the following table.

Twelve factors that influence or demonstrate leadership is listed in the left column. The right column is for your personal notes or actions. Make a note of items or activities that you may wish to investigate further or implement to ensure the factor has been addressed satisfactorily either within your project or within the entire enterprise.

Leadership Factors

Your Personal Action

1. Project Vision and Mission – a clearly defined vision and a connection to organizational strategies. Does the team clearly understand why the project has been initiated? Are you committed and can the team see that commitment?


2. Strategic Value –  understanding technology changes, market shifts, changes in customer priorities, brand recognition, corporate image, regulatory issues, and intellectual property


3. Visible Support – are executive and or project leader accessible, available when needed, and seen often by the project team and work package performers? Does the project have obvious, clear and demonstrated management support?


4. Emphasis on Planning – Having a plan is one thing, but plans change. Are you emphasizing the need for continuous planning and remaining prepared for new risk situations? Planning is ongoing throughout the project life cycle and frequent plan reviews are necessary to ensure that the approach meets the opportunities and threats


5. Consulting with the team and the client – Do you ask the team questions? This provides the team with an indication that you are interested. Do you ask for advice and encourage innovation? This helps the team or the organization develop creative thinking. Do you check with the client to make sure there are no major issues? This demonstrates to the client that you care and are committed to meeting their needs. Do you look for new opportunities and discuss ideas with the team and the client? This will enhance the outcome of the project and may generate new areas for revenue.


6. Team Motivation – Keeping the team focused is essential for success. How do you motivate your team? How do you maintain interest and high levels of energy?

What is included in your reward and recognition process? Do you inspire excellence?


7. Assess Technical Ability – Projects require technical expertise. The team should have the ability and the tools necessary to deliver the project’s product. How do you determine the capability of your team? Where are the areas that are weak or require additional support? What back up plans are in place to ensure technical expertise is available?

How often do you assess your team or your organization’s technical competency and compare with your competition?


8. Client Acceptance and Exit Strategy – Defining client acceptance criteria and developing a strategy to exit the project upon completion (or at termination) is a critical item often missed by project managers and teams. What is your process for project acceptance? Do you have clearly defined project acceptance criteria?


9. Monitoring and Control Process – Establishing agreed upon monitoring and control procedures at project start up will focus the team on objectives and reduce the probability of experiencing significant variances. Control from the leader perspective means to ensure that the team members are in control of their work. Leadership is not about controlling the workers or the team. Leaders should offer support, look for potential problems and symptoms, and assist project team members as needed to keep the performance of their specific assignments within acceptable limits. Planned and unplanned performance appraisals are useful in this area as well as formal and informal recognition for work well done.


10. Effective communication – Keeping the team informed of major issues and change requests, recognizing the team for good work, encouraging team members to report “bad news” or problem areas, ensuring that objectives are clear and that the team fully understands the scope of work. The leader should practice the “I get it factor.” Providing information in such a way that the receiver will be able to fully understand and comprehend the information without repeated explanations.


11. Problem identification – preparing for problems by initiating a risk management process, establishing a system for identifying problems that may occur or have occurred. Encouraging team members to think it terms of “what if” instead of “what now? Leaders encourage project team members to think in terms of scenarios. What could happen? Why? What action can be taken to prevent a problem? Encourage proactive or “positive thinking” about risk management. Prep your team to think in terms of prevention and contingency.


12. A solid project management methodology

Having a well thought out and accepted methodology provides an organization with consistency, greater predictability of outcomes, and more efficient use of resources. Take time to review your method and procedures. What is working well? Where are the gaps, redundancies, or inefficiencies? Work with your team and practice continuous improvement.


These factors may not be new to many project managers but the model does provide a framework to build from and to develop strategies that can improve the chances of achieving project success. Most project managers will agree that the project manager is part leader and part manager. Additionally, project managers are also part manager and part doer, especially in the IT environment. The hard part is deciding which part should be done by the project manager rather than by others. As stated in several books on leadership, managers do things right and leaders do the right things. It’s the right thing to develop a leadership strategy for your project and it will help you and your team to manage more effectively and ultimately to do things right.

The Difference Between Managing And Leading

There are many opinions about the characteristics of a leader and the difference between leaders and managers. The fact of the matter is that most effective leaders are also good managers. The truly effective leader knows that a balance must exist between the roles and focus of the managerial side and the leadership side of an individual assigned to lead a project team. That balance, when managed properly, is the basic element that will result in team motivation, commitment and a desire to perform well.

The Leadership Focus

The Management Focus



Selling, Influencing (what and why)

Telling how and when

Long range and strategic view

Short term and tactical

People (empowerment)

Organization and Structure



















Risk (opportunity)

Risk (avoidance)




Effective leadership requires a balance between what we know as “traditional” leader qualities and the managerial qualities needed for an organization to meet strategic, portfolio, and project objectives. It is important for the project leader to do an occasional internal “leadership system check” to identify areas where improvement may be needed or where current knowledge and or skills may not be sufficient to meet an upcoming challenge. Leaders should remain in a state of learning and should always be asking the question – How can we do this better next time? Leadership means making things happen. Ensuring that important, useful things are accomplished that will add value to an organization. Continue to check your value contribution. Challenge yourself to go to the next level. Create an environment where leadership is contagious and encourage others to help lead the way to continued success.

The Future of Project Management and Project Leadership

One additional point that should be addressed is the changing view of project management. According to Dr. Kerzner, project managers must adapt to a new and continually evolving environment. This means that project managers will be required to adjust their skills and enhance their competencies to meet the challenges that are forming on the horizon. These competencies and skills include:

  • Effective leadership involving a multitude of stakeholders with different needs and expectations
  • Leadership of virtual teams
  • Leadership under the auspices of governance groups rather than a single project sponsor
  • Leadership where the end result is a moving target rather than a stationary target.  Because of the moving target, leadership in an environment where there are numerous and necessary scope changes; i.e. leadership of change
  • Leadership in an environment where religion, politics, and culture can have a serious impact on project success
  • Leadership where methodologies are replaced by frameworks which are custom-designed to the client’s demands.

These are just some of the changes that can be expected and they will affect project leadership in the very near the future. Considering the rate at which technology changes, the increasing levels of competition in the world market and the uncertainty of the economy, the best advice at this time is to prepare now.

Discuss value and success with your project team members, obtain the executive viewpoint and blend these perspectives together. The view is different between the top and the people managing projects and day to day operations. Make sure you consider all viewpoints when it comes to defining success and create an “integrated” definition of that everyone can buy into.