Is a project manager a manager or a leader?

Leadership and management are often a confusing topic. This article will clarify the two concepts and their necessity for the success of a project.

Leadership vs Management

Leadership in project management is the talent to lead a vision for the project and it largely relies on the authority and charisma of the project manager.

Management is the ability to frame the project, setting up action plans and evaluating performance. It relies on tools, software, and performance-monitoring indicators.

Leadership is about people, while management is about procedures, schedules, systems, and tools.

The project manager wears two hats

The project manager must be at the same time a leader to get the involvement and trust of his team and a manager in order to manage the project correctly.

Some project managers are better leaders than managers, while others serve as better managers than leaders. Project managers must wear both hats to lead a project to completion and should work on bolstering their skills, whether in management or leadership.

How to be both a manager and leader

Good managers plan schedules carefully, avoid overloads, and update stakeholders on the progress of the work. Leaders are passionate about their projects and ensure their enthusiasm is passed on to the entire team. They influence stakeholders to gain their support to support the project.

Work on yourself and get out of your comfort zone

If you are very comfortable with public speaking, but have trouble with project management software, challenge yourself to take training on the tools with which you are less comfortable and gauge your progress. For example, you could track how long it takes you to do tasks using technical tools and work to improve your time each week.

If you are an excellent project management technician (tech-savvy) and have a perfect command of planning in MS Project, but you are less comfortable with speaking in front of people, try to find a public-speaking club and sign up for self-confidence training, leadership development, or public speaking. I did this and found the benefits to my confidence were more than worth the time investment.

I am often asked what makes a project manager a leader. I have read many articles and interviews and have discussed this with experienced project managers like the advisory board members of the CPM training program and certification. I have given presentations training on this topic and each time I present this question, a debate about the differences between leadership and management ensues.

Below are the seven aspects of great leaders that separate them from mere managers. I have found that they:

  1. communicate clearly
  2. maintain the stability of the project
  3. trust their intuition
  4. inspire their teammates
  5. show respect for everyone involved in the project
  6. persevere through difficult times
  7. adapt quickly

Please share your opinions and experience with this topic in the comments!

Let’s dive more deeply into each of these attributes to further elucidate the qualities great leaders have in common.

The Ability to communicate clearly

Clear communication is key in project management; however, in order to communicate clearly, you must have a clear vision of the project. It is critical to communicate the objectives of the project to each team contributing to its success, including finance, sales, technical support, human resources, and others.

In addition, the communication of the vision has to change depending on the audience. Project managers have to know how to effectively communicate with different teams, including:

  1. Technical support
  2. Executive management
  3. End-users of the project deliverables
  4. Budget office
  5. Marketing and sales teams

Each may have different expectations for the project. It is quite a bit easier to say all this than it is to apply it. Working on clear communications is one of the best areas for new project managers to invest their efforts.

Maintain the stability of the project:

  1. Motivating team members
  2. Listening to everyone and taking action
  3. Client expectations versus reality
  4. Risk management
  5. Macro and Micro vision
  6. Determination and Adaptability

The project manager is subject to constant and sometimes divergent pressure from clients, team members, and sponsors. It can be difficult to sustain the balance between achieving the project’s objectives and motivating the team. It is also very important to listen to team members because they are experts at what they do. The achievement of project milestones and intermediate/partial deliverables and positive feedback from sponsors should be celebrated along the way to keep the team motivated.

Ability to trust your intuition


A struggle many new project managers face is knowing when to trust themselves and when they need more information to make a decision. Some people are comfortable relying on their instincts and can make decisions too hastily and regret it later. Others wait until all the facts are in and still struggle to make decisions. To a certain extent, these differences have to do with deeply ingrained personality traits, but project managers need to be aware which of the two extremes they are more likely to gravitate toward in order to guard against their worst impulses.

It might seem obvious that you shouldn’t make a decision until you have as much data as possible, but the time and effort it could take to gather all that data could grind a project to a halt. On the other hand, making decisions quickly keeps the process going, but if details aren’t thought through thoroughly at the outset, big problems can pop up later.

The more experience you get, the more you’ll know what kind of decision-maker you are and how you should modulate your impulses to get the best outcome. There are pros and cons to both kinds of project manager: it’s all about leaning on your strengths and working on your weaknesses.

Inspiring your teammates

Inspiring Leader - Project Management Blog

It is almost impossible to create a climate of trust without demonstrating each day your confidence in the team, its members, and the ability to succeed together. It is often natural to not trust in the beginning. We may want to take over a previous task because the first deliverables are not what we expected in terms of content, quality, or duration. It may be tempting to require a follow-up. We can even simply expand the duration of certain tasks based on a lack of confidence in the team member’s abilities––where the smallest mistake is fatal. The lack of confidence will be noticed by the person concerned and by his teammates. But it takes a lot of time to gain confidence and only a few seconds to lose it.

The next subject from the same theme is delegation. This is when the project manager cannot do the task, so the solution is to delegate it. The leader begins by hiring skilled resources. The project manager should provide them difficult, critical, and complex missions, as well as the necessary support for the realization of those tasks. I had the chance to work with some real leaders in my career and it was always a pleasure to learn and grow with them. Each had very different styles, but they all had the ability to trust others.

There is also a notion of authenticity among leaders. Be aware of your style, as your personality is also very important. Let me explain. Are you direct, consensual, paternalistic, action-oriented? In my personal case, I am usually solution-oriented and I have a fairly participative/cooperative style. Involuntarily switching to a more direct and edgy style proved to be a failure. I was uncomfortable and I lacked authenticity. When I had the opportunity to work with a direct approach from other leaders, it did not cause problems to the team because they knew what to stick to.

Show Respect

  1. Listen to others
  2. Proximity
  3. To be honest and “fair-play”
  4. Provide opportunities for his teammates
  5. Recognize its limits and seek advice from experts

Respect begins when we start listening. I know project managers who talk all the time. It is true that communication is a major part of our business and it is also true that communication is bi-directional. We must stop talking from time to time to listen––to check that the message has been received and understood. Silence is not enough: the project manager must not only listen, but also seek conversation, generate comments, seek criticism, and value the ideas of his audience (stakeholders). Many leaders are able to increase their effectiveness through their ability to listen and ask the right questions. This may be their main strength.

To obtain honest and sincere comments, it is necessary to establish a close relationship with your teams and customers, particularly in the case of teams distributed geographically. Open-door (from his office) policies and “management by wandering around” are particularly effective. Cooperative tools can reproduce at a distance a certain openness and even create proximity, such as: digital messenger, Twitter, SMS, blogs, etc.

On the other hand, taking credit for the successes of others will not lead the project manager far. But, recognizing everyone’s contributions and promoting them is very welcome. Similarly, we must encourage the development of trusted resources during a project by giving them tasks that challenge their skills. These will always benefit the company––on the current project or the following ones.

Finally, we cannot be experts in everything and should not even try to be. Knowing how to surround ourselves with the right skills and trust them is a strength.

Dare to persevere (even in trouble)

  1. We can not always please everyone
  2. Understand the position of opponents and partners
  3. Stay constructive
  4. Keep the distance

The role of project manager can sometimes seem selfish, especially for those whose motivation is the recognition and appreciation of others. Indeed, working with time, the quality of deliverables, and cost control means difficult decisions that are not always acceptable to everyone. The team technician may have trouble accepting that the latest version of the database is not used. The customer will be motivated to add needs along the way without taking the time to specify them, but also expects no impact on costs and time. The sponsor can both reduce the budget, refuse any agreement on the start date, and refuse any risk-taking or reduction of scope. So, there will necessarily be compromises to look for and not everyone will always have what he dreams about.

Change and adapt quickly

  1. Stay proactive to the environment
  2. Think outside the box
  3. Look for differences
  4. Learn from others
  5. Recognize the inevitable changes

Concentration is necessary for the project manager to manage his project and achieve his objectives; it must not be transformed into isolation and prevent him from listening. In particular, you need to stay current of what is happening outside your ecosystem: project, company, customers, partners, team members, etc. Some events outside the project can have a significant impact on the project. The vote of a new law, the appearance of a new technology, a competitor unknown until then, the arrival of new shareholders, changes of executive management: the list is infinite.

On the other hand, we must constantly seek out innovations and new trends. For example, I advise you to follow TED talks, which bring together the best ideas on the planet ( Often, I find new topics, as well as similar situations that can inform my knowledge base. It is not by recruiting people like you (environment, nationality, experience, school, or similar culture) that you engender different perspectives. So looking for differences and staying curious about everything rather than specializing excessively are good ways to increase your project leadership.

Are you more a manager or a leader? Have you ever found the balance between them?
Share with us your thoughts!

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