Exploring trends and developments in project management today

Project Leadership Styles

Deidre Harris

Businessman holding a card with leadership written on it

An effective Project Management Professional (PMP) is able to invoke various leadership styles. The key is to use each style at the right time. There are six distinct leadership styles that were identified by Daniel Goleman. He likens these styles to golf clubs in a seasoned professional's bag; you choose the correct club ('style') for each shot ('situation'). Here is a summary and an example of each style:

1. Coercive Style

This style is used when a leader issues orders in such a manner that there is only one direction to go. It is also used when there is a lack of time, or subordinates have no idea how to craft a solution. By giving a direct order, there is less room for error. However, the drawback to this approach is that you may stifle creativity. Many may resent this style and avoid discussing controversial topics with you. An example of this would be when the project manager specifies every detail of the system design, without letting the systems analysts explore other ideas.

2. Authoritative Style

This style is used when the project manager shares their vision with the team, but allows them to use their various talents to come up with a collaborative solution. By valuing each team member's contribution, the leader is motivating the team. It is important that the leader is respected for his/her knowledge so that others feel honoured to be part of the effort. A real life example of this would be Steve Jobs. Apple Computers hires very talented people who are eager to make his vision come to life. One would assume that they take a great sense of pride in their innovations.

3. Affiliative Style

This style is where a team leader seeks to encourage each member to think of themselves as 'one of the gang', so to speak. There is a lot of flexibility on how the work is actually done, as long as all objectives are met. Open communication and team harmony are some of the by-products of this style. However, one must be careful not to be so loose that team members feel they don't have any guidance and are struggling through on their own. An example of this style would be a team leader that actually cares about work life balance, such as the needs of one's family, along with an individual's career goals.

4. Democratic Style

The democratic style is employed when everyone has a say. While this style may cause the planning and execution stages to be time consuming, morale is usually high. Also, if there is no true hierarchy, there can be constant disagreement where there is no true resolution in sight. An example of this would be a committee without a Chair.

5. Pace-setting Style

The pace-setting style involves the setting of high performance standards. There is usually a weeding out process that identifies employees who may have weaknesses in a certain area. Some team members may feel constant pressure to compete and not feel they are providing any meaningful contribution to the creative process. An example of this would be a team leader that focuses on high productivity without a focus on quality.

6. Coaching Style

The coaching style leader is willing to teach and allow people to work on their strengths and weaknesses. The coach challenges all to do better and is encouraging when any failure is present. It works well when the team is inexperienced and small in number. An example of this would be a manager of freshly minted graduates.

In summary, an effective project manager must employ a variety of leadership styles, or as Daniel Goleman put it - 'the correct club for the shot', in order to be successful. There is no one size fits all.