Project Manager to Project Leader? and the Rocky Road Between...


Introduction | Evolution | Definition | Leader vs. Manager
Project Life Cycle | Team Building | Decision Making | Conclusions

Leadership and the Project Life Cycle

It is clear that leadership is important to the success of a project because leadership is essentially about motivating people. It is also clear that what may be characterized as "managership" is equally important because this is about getting things done. Can the two be reconciled? For this it is necessary to turn to a fundamental principle underpinning the concept of project management.

Project management is a structured but flexible process for producing a new end result. Its success depends on the application of a two step sequence: First plan - then produce. This is the genesis of every successful project life cycle.

For example, in the "planning" phases of the project, the project leader conducts the project team and other main stakeholders through formal and informal decision making in order to achieve agreed goals and objectives. This process involves a high degree of interaction and formulation of organizational strategies. It takes time and is challenging. The development of the resulting technical requirements may require a number of iterations and re-runs. This is especially true at the outset, in order to flush out the "customer's needs". Therefore, "visioning", "intelligence gathering" and developing "a compelling reason" and "appropriate strategies", are the all-important issues. These issues also form the essential basis for effective team development.

In this, project management is near-unique. For while a CEO or other enterprise leader may develop his "team" once (or so) in his/her tenure, the project leader must be conscious of the "Project Team Development Cycle" for every project and throughout the project life cycle. Thus, planning is about optimizing the effectiveness of the project and its results, i.e. "doing the right things".



Leadership Style/Blend

Feasibility Study

  • Sense of vision
  • "Big Picture" (conceptual)
  • Analysis
  • Visionary
  • Creates future
  • Empowerment
  • Expansive

Conceptual (Formulation)

  • Listening
  • Analysis
  • Alignment
  • Analytical
  • Listener
  • Change master
  • Convergence


  • Participative/Acceptance and commitment
  • Cooperative
  • Team builder
  • Power and influence
  • Integrator


  • Re-alignment
  • Decision maker
  • Balances work and fun
  • Trustworthiness
  • Team and synergy


  • Transfer of product and information
  • Administrator
  • Closure
Table 3: Leadership and the Project Life Cycle

On the other hand, the real work of task execution gets done in the "producing" phases. In these phases, the paramount requirement is an ability to satisfy the customer(s) by conducting the efforts of the project team towards the required product(s) under typical project constraints. This is achieved by consistently "getting the message out", which is also the essential basis for project control. Thus, producing, or management of production, is about optimizing the project process, i.e. "doing the things right.

To get a project started off right, the project manager must become a leader. However, the style of leadership does need to change as the project progresses through its life cycle. Indeed, there comes a point in time when "managership" may be more important than "leadership". It will be observed that "information" (intelligence gathering) in the planning phases, and "communications" (getting the message out) in the producing phases, i.e. intercommunication, is an essential skill for both the project leader and the project manager. Table 3 shows the progression back from leader to manager in greater detail, and Figure 2 shows the relationship to the typical major tasks of the project life cycle and corresponding organizational strategies.

Figure 2: The Evolution of Tasks and People through the Project Life Cycle

Figure 2: The Evolution of Tasks and People through the Project Life Cycle
Leader vs. Manager  Leader vs. Manager

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