What is the distinction between a project leader and a project manager?
According to project management specialist Jim Highsmith in his book Agile Leaders, “most projects are over-managed and under-led.”
Since their positions often overlap, it’s difficult to find specific descriptions of what a project manager and project leader do. In certain cases, a project leader is also a project manager (just with extra responsibilities).
With no precise definitions to go on, the only way to tell the difference between the two positions is to look at their main responsibilities. This is how they usually appear:
Responsibilities of a project manager
- Implementing product strategy, including product enhancement, feature prioritization, costing, and release
- Setting deadlines and keeping projects on track
- Tracking sprint deliverables and providing feedback to key stakeholders
- Assuring that the project stays within the agreed-upon budget
- Managing all moving parts in relation to milestones, such as plans, paperwork, personnel, and, on occasion, HR issues
Project Leader Roles And Responsibilities
- Communicating with team members, including relaying briefs, linking everyday activities to broader goals, and providing background and support
- Keeping the team united and on track, including resolving any disagreements or bottlenecks
- Creating a vision for the project to give team members a sense of mission and encouragement
- Offering less tangible and more emotional encouragement to help a team remain focused on the end goal
- Creating a work environment that brings out the best of his or her team
There’s a reason why a project manager’s duties include phrases like “vision,” “emotional support,” and “goal.”
Leadership, like other aspects of the business world, is often more art than science and necessitates the learning of specific and special soft skills in addition to the more traditional hard skills described in the job description. (Soft skills are important characteristics that also extend to communication, decision making, leadership ability, attitude, intuition, and work ethic.)
The importance of these skills stems from the fact that project managers often work in gray areas. Rather than explicitly specified deliverables and schedules, they deal with the intangible factors that keep a team together and contribute to the success of a project.
Project managers, on the other hand, operate with well-defined projects, schedules, budgets, and scope. They play a more black-and-white, easy-to-communicate-on-paper role. Managers are increasingly focused on the bottom line, pushing deadlines, and the realistic applications needed to complete a project.
In another way:
If project management is like herding cattle—a time-tested strategy with a high chance of success—then project leadership is like herding cats.
7 Most Essential Skills to Become a Successful Project Leader
Now that we’ve clarified the difference between a project leader and the other people who help move the project forward, let’s get into the next big question: What does it take to be a good project manager?
Leadership abilities are also more difficult to describe since they are about individuals rather than products and processes.
Unfortunately, while encouraging, this does not go into detail about the tangible skills required to lead. To be more precise, we’ve compiled a list of the key project leadership skills:
1. Team management
Project managers are the captains of their teams. This does not imply that they are the best player. However, they understand how to place their team and each individual member for success.
Although project leaders must always keep their eyes on the prize when it comes to the successful completion of any given project, they are also responsible for the regular processes of team unity. In other words, this entails ensuring that the whole team remains centered and collaborates effectively against a common goal.
But team management is more than just what you’re focused on right now. Project leaders differentiate themselves by finding and elevating the right teammates to the right position where they can truly shine.
A project manager may spend a lot of time on paper getting a process to work, but a project leader can bring the process to life in the sense of a team. To accomplish this, they will employ management tools such as cheerleading, inspiration, goal setting, and others as required.
For example, a leader who recognizes that her team has been putting in extra hours on a project can devise a special reward—such as a special team dinner together or a day off post-project—to both show gratitude and encourage continued hard work.
2. Conflict resolution
Nothing slows down a project more than conflict. However, expecting the team to spend the whole day happily working together is a pipe dream. Instead, dispute resolution is central to becoming a successful leader.
On a larger team, this can imply resolving tension among multiple project managers. As – manager strives to carve out their piece of the larger puzzle, it is critical to retain open lines of communication, ensure that individuals can work productively together, and feel greater than the sum of their parts.
Assume you have two teams working on interdependent sections of a project, but they’ve fallen out of touch with each other and feel stifled. They’re suddenly missing deadlines and blaming each other.
Goodbye, overtime and late nights at the office.
Have your tasks planned.
At this stage, a project manager must intervene to de-escalate the situation and get the teams back to work productively together.
Check that the planned sprints involve the work that allows the other team to do their best work. Then, make sure that the current activities that are contributing to that goal are correctly delegated and prioritized.
Finally, each project manager could be designated as a “watcher” on critical issues. This way, they gain insight into dependent activities and are aware that there are clear reasons why they are being held up.
This is known as confronting in project management theory (or more generally, problem-solving, integrating, collaborating, or win-win). However, not all conflicts are as simple as this. As a project manager, you must also be mindful of situations in which others can believe they are on the losing end.
Know that there is a distinction between being a leader and being a micromanager.
Creating a good atmosphere does not necessitate being constantly involved in everyone’s affairs to ensure that everything runs smoothly. Set clear boundaries and then allow your team members to flourish.
3. Servant leadership
A project manager understands that people aren’t tasks. Project leaders are fundamentally servant leaders. This is a leadership theory in which the main aim is to satisfy the needs of the client rather than the interests of the organization.
This is not to say that you can ignore deadlines and milestones. Instead, consider it to be the same attribute that distinguishes a great scrum master. You’re not only guiding the community as a whole, but you’re also making changes based on input from each member of your team.
A good project manager is always searching for opportunities to get more out of their team, not because it will boost the bottom line, but because the most valuable investment is in the team they’ve created.
Don’t think of yourself as just an instructor in a project leadership role; you’re still a student, and you can learn a lot from every member of your team.
Consider yourself a student as well as an instructor in your capacity as a project leader.
Almost every project encounter what is referred to as the “messy center.” This is when the clarity and excitement that were present from the start vanish, and the team feels like every day is a slog to nowhere.
This can happen for a variety of reasons. Perhaps the early feedback on their work was not as intended. Or a stakeholder arrived and demanded that the scope be changed. Maybe they’re just tired from working long hours and meeting high standards.
In any case, a successful team leader would be able to detect signs of discouragement—even burnout—and execute tactics to keep people motivated and on track.
This is more than a pat on the back or a “nice job!” You must understand the psychology of motivation and how to keep the team motivated and encouraged.
For example, a recent study published in the Harvard Business Review discovered that employees who spent 15 minutes at the end of each day writing reflections about what they did right, what they did wrong, and what they learned were able to increase their performance by 20%.
There are numerous other ways to help the team be more effective and inspired. The trick is to recognize that these small practices can have a significant effect on your team’s ability to get things done and feel confident about their success.
Not only that, but it provides you with tangible input to work with so you can continue to optimize their positions and responsibilities with their strengths and weaknesses.
The position of chief communicator is one of the most critical that a project leader can play.
Communication may cover a wide range of topics, such as persuading team members to cooperate in ways they are not used to, negotiating deadlines and priorities with various project stakeholders, and eliminating any doubt regarding what is expected of each team member.
In addition to keeping your team members productive and feeling valued, you will most likely need to communicate with stakeholders and customers, keeping them up to date on success, managing their expectations, and communicating their input to your team.
A project leader is distinguished not only by their ability to transmit knowledge and information, but also by their ability to be perceived as impartial, open, trustworthy, concentrated, and confident. Here’s a little more information on each of these attributes and how to cultivate them:
Trustworthiness: Above all, project leaders must be able to rely on them. According to studies, faith is the key distinguishing feature of the best workplaces. You must put your words into action if you want to be seen as trustworthy. This includes trusting teammates to get things done without micromanaging them or simply voicing your confidence in their ability to do as they say.
Transparency: Transparency is synonymous with confidence. How would the team believe you if you withhold information from them? The best project managers understand that it is more important to be transparent and truthful about what is going on and to collaborate as a team to find a better solution. There are no hidden agendas here, nor is it necessary to read between the lines.
Objectivity and fairness: Contradictions and disputes are unavoidable in complex ventures. And project managers cannot be accused of favoritism. Strong project leaders consistently listen to all perspectives and work without prejudice.
Focus and stability: Project leaders must be steadfast in their willingness to operate under duress. Not all ventures will go as expected, but as a leader, you must be able to navigate the ship through rough seas.
Finally, stakeholders, leaders, and team members all want a project leader who is confident in their skills and abilities (but not arrogant!) Be straightforward in your recommendations, consistent in your words, and truthful and responsive in your feedback.
6. Proposing and implementing reforms
Changes may be proposed over the course of a project, particularly if it is a large project with a long timetable and many moving parts, and the original design will begin to change. Perhaps a client would notice the first mock-up or draft and realize, “Hey, this wasn’t what I was expecting!” Or maybe your biggest rival makes a significant shift, causing your company to reconsider their plan.
During these times of confusion, the team should look to you as the project leader. And, though you can definitely assist in identifying and proposing improvements, your true leadership qualities can be shown by your ability to guide your team through these trying times.
This includes communicating new workflows or procedures and ensuring the team has access to the information they need.
7. Coming up with ideas
Finally, a great project leader does more than just fix issues; they build solutions.
A successful project manager will be able to identify problems—ideally, possible problems—and then propose and execute solutions that satisfy their team and any related stakeholders. You must be seen as a problem solver who is always searching for the positives rather than drowning in the negatives of unforeseen problems.
Maintaining a good outlook and reflecting on what can be done rather than what is going wrong is part of this.
For example, if a team member is having difficulty meeting deadlines, you have a logistical issue that must be resolved and corrected as soon as possible. But you must also look deeper for solutions: why is this individual not performing to standards, and how can you assist them in succeeding?
Take the time to look under the surface of a problem to determine why it occurred in the first place. Keep in mind that project managers are servant leaders. Underneath it all, you have a duty to the team and the individuals that comprise it.
5 ways to Prove that you are a project manager
Finally, if you want to stand out as a project manager, you must show that you are capable of handling the job. So, if those ability lists still sound a little hazy, here are a few ways you can set yourself apart from the other project managers at your company:
- Demonstrate your interest and talent in human resource management and team dynamics.
- Establish specific goals for yourself and your staff, and then ensure that they are met.
- Contribute to conflict resolution rather than conflict development.
- Act as a cheerleader for every team member, ensuring that their achievements are both appreciated and rewarded.
- Take charge of all aspects of the team’s success, showing that the buck stops with you and that you’re up to the challenge.
To be a chief, you don’t always need a title.
A team leader is not often referred to as a Project Leader. As a result of these abilities, you can automatically grow to the top and distinguish yourself from the other PMs.
Just bear in mind that becoming a leader entails more than just meeting deadlines and achieving results. It is also essential to project the right attitude and inspire others to do their best work.
A good manager is important for keeping things on track and within budget. A leader, on the other hand, would go above and beyond the basics to help build a better work atmosphere in which every team member will succeed.