In today’s fast-paced and ever-changing business landscape, project managers play a crucial role in driving success and achieving organizational goals. They are the captains of the ship, responsible for steering their teams toward victory.

But what sets apart exceptional project managers from the rest? It all comes down to leadership skills – those essential qualities that empower them to inspire, motivate, and guide their teams to greatness. A PMI report, Pulse of the Profession, indicated leadership skills as one of the most demanded skills from project managers as well as technical skills

In this article, we will delve into the five key leadership skills that every project manager must possess to excel in their role and deliver exceptional results.


1. Vision and Goal-Setting

2. Communication and Relationship Building

3. Problem-Solving and Decision-Making

4. Planning and Organizing

5. Adaptability and Flexibility

Final Thoughts


1. Vision and Goal-Setting

Vision and goal setting are crucial leadership skills in project management. These concepts serve as a mapped-out directive toward project objectives and how to achieve them.

Vision and goal setting clearly define “what to do,” “when to do it,” and “how to do it.” These, together, induce confidence in the project management process.

Effective leaders understand the importance of developing a clear vision and setting SMART goals to guide their teams toward project success.

A study by Dominican University found that people who set goals are 43 percent more likely to achieve them. It is no surprise.

As a leader handling a project, you must have the ability to effectively set milestones and objectives and push for them. These objectives should provide a clear understanding of the purpose of the project to your team.

How do you define the project vision or set SMART goals as a project manager?

Developing a clear vision

Developing a clear vision involves creating a compelling and inspiring picture of the desired future state of the project.

A clear vision provides clarity on the project’s purpose, goals, and desired outcomes. It serves as a guiding light, aligning the efforts of the project team and stakeholders.

To develop a clear vision as a project leader you should consider several factors.

It is important to analyze the project’s context, identify stakeholders’ needs and expectations, and align the vision with the organization’s overall strategy.

Additionally, leaders should communicate the vision effectively, ensuring that all team members understand and are aligned with it.

A shared vision encourages collaboration, helps overcome challenges, and enables the team to work cohesively towards a common goal.

Setting SMART Goals

What are SMART goals?

The “SMART” in SMART goals is an acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound.

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This approach provides a reliable and clear framework in creating goals every expert would agree to.

Specific: Simplify the project tasks using a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS). With this, set specific and well-defined objectives trackable with the workflow.

Measurable: There should be a means of tracking your goal progress. Ideally set goals should be evaluable and include quantifiable criteria for determining achievements.

Achievable: When setting your goals, consider the restraining factors surrounding your project. Create your goals to be realistic within your project frame and attainable given a maximized approach.

Relevant: Goals should be instrumental to the project’s success. Focus on setting goals that are pertinent to the project’s purpose and contribute to achieving desired results.

Time-bound: Goals should have a specific timeframe or deadline for completion. This helps create a sense of urgency, fosters accountability, and ensures that progress is made within a defined timeline.

2. Communication and Relationship Building

It is not possible to talk about leadership skills and not talk about communication and relationship building.

Communication and relationship building are core elements when improving your leadership skills as a project manager.

A recent study reveals that 72% of business leaders believe that effective communication is instrumental to their team’s productivity, and this view is validated by 52% of knowledge workers.

Also, 60% of the 251 business leaders surveyed agreed that effective communication increased employee confidence. Meanwhile, 56% of the 1,001 surveyed knowledge workers claimed that it increased work satisfaction as well.

A leadership-oriented project manager recognizes the value of building an interactive relationship between involved parties through the lifecycle of a project.

Here’s how to improve your communication and relationship-building skills as a project manager.

Active listening

Active listening involves not only hearing the words being spoken but also understanding the underlying message, emotions, and intentions.

When project managers actively listen, they create an environment that fosters open and honest communication. This enables team members to express their ideas, concerns, and feedback freely.

This promotes a culture of trust and psychological safety within the team and leads to increased engagement, collaboration, and creativity.

Building trust

Distrust is a common theme in the workplace, with Forbes reporting that about 63% of employees don’t trust their employer.

One leadership skill every project manager should possess is the ability to restore confidence among employees in building trust.

To build trust, project managers should:

  • Establish credibility and gain the respect of their team.
  • Demonstrate that they’re reliable.
  • Communicate openly and honestly with team members and stakeholders.
  • Be consistent in fulfilling responsibilities and follow through on commitments.
  • Respect, empower and support team members.
  • Foster teamwork and collaboration.

3. Problem-Solving and Decision-Making

Leadership roles require the ability to solve problems and make informed decisions. This is an essential skill for project managers. This involves addressing challenges, seizing opportunities and navigating complex situations.


Project managers who exhibit these skills gain more confidence from their team members and stakeholders. It assures them that you are up to the task and worthy of your position as a project leader.

Developing problem-solving and decision-making skills starts with being able to analyze data and make data-informed decisions.

Analyzing data and information

A good project manager pays attention and tries to gather more relevant project data as possible from every credible source available.

These data sources include (but are not limited to) project documentation, reports, team members, and stakeholders.

Data analysis promotes a deeper understanding of project dynamics and widens progress awareness.

Through data analysis, project managers can objectively assess the current state of the project, identify areas that require improvement, and uncover potential risks or bottlenecks. They can also identify trends, patterns, or anomalies that provide valuable information for decision-making.

Making informed decisions

Informed decision-making involves evaluating available options and selecting the most appropriate course of action. Good decision-making skills involve considering various factors before committing to a resolution.

These factors include project objectives, constraints, stakeholder expectations, and organizational goals. Successful project managers weigh the potential risks, benefits, and trade-offs associated with each option.

Effective project managers also involve key stakeholders in the decision-making process. They seek input and feedback from relevant individuals or teams to gain a broader perspective and ensure that decisions are well-informed and supported by those affected.

4. Planning and Organizing

Before starting a project, a decent amount of work needs to be done in planning and organizing the tasks that need to be done to achieve project success.

This serves as the skeletal structure of the project around which every other subsequent activity takes shape.

Hence, it is the responsibility of a project manager to lay out a blueprint for the project in a detailed workflow.

This preparation and planning, in turn, reduces running cost, provide guidance, motivate employees, and simplify complex challenges.

Effective planning and organizing involves:

Creating a project plan

Creating a project plan starts with recognizing the objectives of the project, resources, restraining factors, and activities to be engaged through the project.

A literature review from the Journal of Modern Project Management indicated that various reports reveal that quality project plans have positive significant impacts on efficiency and overall project success.

Efficient project managers are result-oriented and, thus, employ effective processes that contribute to the smooth execution of projects.

Managing resources

Project managers are expected to productively utilize the resources available at their disposal to achieve project success.

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This presents a responsibility for project managers to develop a resource management strategy, plan ahead, minimize waste and fully leverage possible utilities of available resource mediums.

5. Adaptability and Flexibility

Adaptability and flexibility are essential leadership skills for project managers, allowing them to respond to changes and adjust plans and strategies as needed to achieve project success.

In today’s dynamic business environment, unexpected challenges may arise, priorities may shift, new technologies may be introduced, and stakeholder requirements are prone to evolve overtime. An effective project manager should possess some fluidity to adapt to change.

Leaders who possess adaptability and flexibility can manage these changes and ensure that they do not negatively affect the project or project management process.

The Association for Project Management highlights adaptability as a very important project management trait. This is due to the high unpredictability of our environment and the rapid changes observed in several industries.

Hence, in today’s dynamic business environment, project leaders should be proficient in:

Responding to changes

Project managers should be open-minded and receptive to changes. Being open to change promotes good communication.

Project managers should actively seek feedback, listen to stakeholders, and stay attuned to the project’s external environment. This can help identify potential disruptions early on and make timely adjustments to plans and strategies.

As a leader, project managers should also encourage flexibility among team members. A work environment that embraces the culture of change will exhibit better collaboration and response to new developments.

Adjusting plans and strategies

Adjusting plans and strategies is a critical aspect of adaptability and flexibility.

When faced with changes, project managers must assess the impact on project objectives, timelines, and resources. There should be readiness to evaluate the feasibility of the original plans and be willing to modify them accordingly.

This may involve revising the project scope, realigning priorities, or reallocating resources to adapt to the new circumstances effectively.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, effective project management requires a combination of essential leadership skills. The article outlines 5 essential leadership skills for project managers.

In today’s rapidly evolving business landscape, project managers serve as pivotal drivers of success, guiding teams toward victory.

Exceptional project managers stand out through their leadership skills, a blend of vision, communication, problem-solving, planning, and adaptability. These skills empower them to set clear project goals, foster collaboration, make informed decisions, meticulously plan, and gracefully navigate change.

As organizations continue to navigate complexity, project managers equipped with these quintessential leadership attributes will not only excel but also steer their teams to deliver exceptional results, solidifying their role as true leaders of the modern business era.

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