Which Leadership Style Drives Your Projects?

Brandi Johnson

Jan 20 2017 5 min read

We’ve been talking a lot lately about how leadership affects your project success. More than any project management training or software, your leadership style has a direct impact on your team and your project success. Whether you’re a career project manager or it’s just a part of your day, understanding how leveraging the right leadership style can affect your project outcomes.

Being a competent leader goes beyond getting a job done – it includes personality and leadership. We’d almost all rather work with someone who we respect and relate to than someone that we don’t, especially when the project outcome is the same. Knowledge doesn’t always increase competence.

Here are the five most common leadership styles, and good times to use each:

Laissez-Faire: With a Laissez-Faire leadership style, managers don’t provide direct supervision to the team members. It works well for highly experienced and trained employees who can manage themselves. On the other hand, it hurts the production of employees who need supervision, leading to increasing costs and poor quality. Ideal for: Repeat projects that depend on team expertise.

Autocratic: A manager who possesses total authority over their project and team, imposing their will on employees has an autocratic leadership style. While this leadership style may work well for low-skilled employees who need a lot of supervision, it will create conflict and hard feelings with skilled and creative team members. Ideal for: First-time teams with no experience and high stakes for project failure.

Participative: Participative or democratic leaders value input from team members, even though they hold the ultimate decision-making power. These teams have high morale because they feel heard throughout the process. They’re also more likely to adapt to change. Unfortunately, using this style can take longer than some of the other styles. Ideal for: Projects that need to result in substantial change or teams that need to work together often.

Transactional: Using rewards and punishment based on performance results is a key characteristic of transactional leadership. Typically, the leader and team members agree on goals together. The manager can then provide rewards or training and correction based on the results. Ideal for: Ongoing projects or traditional management models.

Transformational: Finally, transformational leaders focus on a high level of communication to motivate and enhance productivity. Leaders focus on the big picture, having team members focus on the details and individual goals. Transformational leaders often have fiercely loyal, empowered team members. Ideal for: Projects that require an unusual outcome or are vastly different than any others within the company.

Of course, there is fluidity between these styles, and ways to blend them. For example, many transformational leaders may also have a level of democratic style as well, while some autocratic leaders may try to provide balance with transactional rewards. As a project leader, you have the critical role of fusing the project team, like the CEO of a temporary organization. Understanding how your leadership style plays into your success can help you deliver better results.


Brandi Johnson

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