Want to be a project leader? Hone these 5 traits for project management success

Step away from that Gantt chart and start leading your team.

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by Ty Kiisel, @task - As businesses turn to project management methodologies to manage the work done by teams in their organizations, the need to distinguish between leadership and management is becoming increasingly important. I have come to appreciate that effective organizations realize that you manage process, and lead people.

[ See also: The A-Team of IT -- and how to assemble one ]

What do I mean by that?

Although I do believe that process is important, in most cases process is not the most important aspect of project management. In fact, I believe we need to look at the project management role as a leadership role and focus less on the mechanics of managing and controlling the process and more on leading teams. Without getting into a nature vs. nurture discussion, I agree that some people are naturally better leaders than others. That being said, I don't believe that aquiring leadership skills is beyond the ability of a willing learner.

Fostering effective project leaders is critical for business leaders who want to seize opportunities to implement positive change within their organizations. President Harry Truman said, "Men make history and not the other way around. In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still. Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better."

It doesn't really matter whether we are talking about political leaders, military leaders, or project leaders, successful leaders share these 5 traits -- and you can learn them:

1. A collaborative management style. Engaging the team and stakeholders in problem solving and decision making is critical for project success and a vital skill for an effective leader.

2. Adaptability. Project teams and individual projects are always different. Successful project managers are able to adapt and overcome the challenges new projects present. A fluid project management approach is a very effective method for managing project-based work.

3. Figure-it-out resourcefulness. This skill is about overcoming obstacles and resource issues in creative and out-of-the box ways. There isn't just one, single path to success.

4. Adaptive communication. It is of paramount importance that project leaders are able to effectively communicate with stakeholders, project teams, and their peers. Project leaders must be able to customize their communication style to the appropriate audience.

5. Flexibility. No matter how well a project is planned, there will always be something or someone that throws a monkey wrench into the works. How you respond to it can mean the difference between success and failure.

The project manager of the future will spend less time behind the computer or reviewing the Gantt chart and more time with the project team facilitating collaboration, creating problem-solving dialog, and removing project impediments. Managing process will always be an important part of managing projects, but leading people will be the skill every project manager will need to master.

Ty Kiisel writes about project management issues and best practices for @task Project Management Software. Follow Ty on Twitter: @tykiisel

For more project management tips, see:
How to say no nicely: A tip for project managers
Project management: Scrapping a doomed project
Project Management: 4 Questions To Ask Before Starting Any Project

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