Let’s Help YOU Determine Your Leadership Style & WHAT Works BEST

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Brenda Johnson

Brenda shares twenty-eight years of project management experience... Read More>>

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Let's help you determine your leadership style preferences and challenges to accuracy, how to implement each style, and which styles work best in most situations for the exceptional project manager. Also included are failed leadership styles, their impacts, and how to strategically determine how to manage people. You will learn practical applications for immediate implementation in your current situation, regardless of your experience level.


Great leadership is a differentiator for a project manager to move from average to superior business performance. Great leaders move us, ignite our passions, and inspire the best in us—they work through our emotions. Leadership is also a skill required to effectively influence without direct authority over resources. This skill includes the ability to move from one leadership style to another depending on the situation. The leadership style we use determines the way people receive us and can either help or hinder their ability to perform.

In reviewing your personal experiences with great leaders—consider the characteristics they may have displayed: trust, respect, great communication, vision, integrity, etc. Implementing behaviors to show these characteristics is crucial to your team viewing you as a great leader.

To be an effective leader you must use a broad repertoire of styles in the right situations. Each style has its purpose, although some have more positive applications than others. Great leaders use a variety of the six styles depicted next (The Hay Group, 2006, p. 36-41). Each style has its own purpose, upside and downside. Like a set of golf clubs, you have to choose which club to use while considering the playing conditions—each works best in a different situation. Each “club” is a leadership style and your ability as a good leader to select the right style for the team, person, and situation is crucial to be extraordinarily effective. Mastering these styles will allow you to increase efficiency and decrease resistance to change.

Most of us must manage our teams without authority. When we lead others who do not directly report to us, we have limited ability to punish and reward. We must rely on influence. Therefore, to be successful, you should use leadership styles to motivate, engage, and gain commitment.

“Leadership is the knack of getting somebody to do something you want done because he wants to do it” — General Dwight D. Eisenhower (n.d. ¶34)

Styles of Leadership

You can use each of the styles below in positive or negative ways. It is the situation that determines what you should do to be most successful. The key factor is actually taking the time to consider the best option and using it rather than relying on your “typical” style. Additionally, you can use combinations of styles in your communications.

The Visionary Leadership Style

The primary objective of the visionary leadership style is to provide long-term direction and vision. It moves people toward shared dreams (Goleman, Boyatzis, & McKee, 2002, p. 55). In utilizing this style, you are concerned with developing and articulating a clear vision. It is not a style that is used in isolation—it solicits others’ perspectives on the vision. Many times project managers think they are visionary leaders, but they may be just “telling” others the direction they have decided—this is NOT visionary. This style sees “selling the vision” as key. It persuades others by explaining the “whys” in terms of their or the organization's long-term interests. It sets standards and monitors performance in relation to the larger vision, and uses a balance of positive and negative feedback to motivate. To utilize the visionary leadership style in the best manner, employ it when the communication of goals is needed. Additionally, you can use it with new employees, and when knowledge of direction or the “whys” of a project or task needs to be known or reinforced.

Do not use this style when the leader does not develop the team. Additionally, if the leader is not credible this style will not be very effective. Consider ahead of time what you need to do or say to be an effective visionary leader. When starting a new project management office (PMO) a few years ago, I decided we needed a charter to help establish the purpose of the group. I had conversations with the senior vice president to find out what he expected from the PMO. Additionally, I interviewed my peers to understand what they needed and would like from the PMO. Once the overall direction was clear, I gathered the project managers repeatedly to get their inputs to their specific goals, needs, and proposed accountability. My role was to ensure they were aware of organizational requirements and re-focus and guide them as needed. Their role was to create the specific vision statement with boundaries to which they would be held accountable. During one of the meetings, a project manager did not like the use of one word but no one else agreed with him. He took some time and was eventually able to articulate why the word had a different meaning to him. Given the additional definition, the team agreed that it could be misinterpreted and worked to determine a more accurate word. The end result was not only a much clearer statement, but also, more importantly, the team had tremendous buy-in. They were “heard” and their inputs were valued. People follow more readily when they are orchestrators of the vision rather than people merely being directed.

Additionally, this is a great style to use in conjunction with others—usually as a preface for additional information. In an email, it can easily be used as the first sentence to highlight “why” the following content is important to the goals of the project. This keeps the team fully informed of why you are asking them to do something specific, helps them feel like a part of the initiative, and gives them a sense of direction.

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