If you had to think about the best leader that you’ve ever known, what are some of the traits that you would use to describe them? Some top-of-mind characteristics are:
I believe that true leaders aren’t identified by their credentials. They are identified by how they portray themselves and how they perceive themselves and others around them. In light of this, the way in which people communicate has a great impact on whether they are an effective and respected leader.
According to the Project Management Institute, 90% of a project manager or project leader’s job is communication. If this is the case, project leaders must be strong communicators in order to have a great impact on projects and their teams.
For anyone who has worked on a project team, it is evident that everyone has their own unique leadership and communication style, which can play out differently depending on a person’s context and environment. How you communicate to your friends is likely more informal than how you would communicate to your clients and managers. On projects, people generally fall into three buckets in terms of communication and leadership style. Whereas some people are naturally more task-focused, some are more relationship-focused, and some are fairly balanced between the two.
The most successful projects tend to have team members with a nice cross section of the three leadership types. The task-focused people are important because they hold people accountable, make sure standards are met, and that the project gets done. The relationship-focused people are important because they keep morale high among the team and are able to convince people to act. Because of their strong interpersonal skills, they are able to empathize and communicate more openly.
Whether you are more task-focused or relationship-focused, make sure to always check your blind spots. If you are naturally more task-focused, if a deliverable is due, rather than sending an email to the team member asking “Where is this?”, lead with a question about how they are doing. You should also try to incorporate relationship building exercises into regularly scheduled events. For example, at the start of a status meeting, kickoff the meeting with an icebreaker.
If you are naturally more relationship-focused, keep chit chat to a minimum as much as possible. Make sure to include agendas and templates to facilitate meetings and status reports. If you know that you are not a strong note taker, have another team member record the meeting minutes. Register for training on different project management tools to help you more easily achieve your tasks, such as Microsoft Project and 10,000 Ft.
As project managers, we need to transition from managers to leaders – leaders from both a project and communication perspective. This means becoming more self-aware of our own styles and learning how to communicate with people whose styles differ from our own. For project success, we must lead teams with a healthy balance of being task-focused and being relationship-focused.
Jessica Ringel is a Project Manager at Akendi, a firm dedicated to creating intentional experiences through end-to-end experience design. To learn more about Akendi or user experience design, visit www.akendi.com.
Akendi is a product strategy, user experience design and usability research firm. We are passionate about the creation of intentional experiences – whether those involve digital products, physical products, mobile, service or bricks-and-mortar interactions. We work shoulder-to-shoulder to optimize the experiences you deliver. Akendi Corporate Overview (PDF).
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