Leadership styles and development

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Developed by Miriam Pohl Khader Martens

Effective leadership is critical to successful projects. A project manager's leadership style has a significant impact on the project, the team’s motivation and productivity, and overall performance. Different leadership styles can be used, as not all projects are the same and the teams involved are different in every project.

Self-awareness and self-reflection are some of the most important competencies a leader can have. When it comes to being a good leader, understanding oneself and understanding the people that must be led is crucial. Being self-aware can potentially lead to an understanding of behaviours and initiate useful changes to enhance leadership skills, such as learning to keep calm in stressful situations and enhancing communication with stakeholders, as well as the team. Understanding the members of the team and knowing how to communicate with each sets a good work environment for successful projects.

Leadership development is the practice of preparing and improving future and current leaders, to lead their teams efficiently and effectively. Furthermore, leadership development is an investment in the organisation’s internal growth. Good leadership leads to many different benefits, and no matter what the desired goal is, developing the necessary skills to reach the goals can significantly improve productivity and morale in the organisation.

This article will describe the applications of leadership styles in a project context. Furthermore, a discussion of the different tools that can be used for developing leadership skills. The leadership skills presented in this article will focus on personal competencies, although external competencies such as quality management and risk management are as important. A case study is made to show how personality types and competencies work to make successful projects. The potential limitations of the different leadership styles and tools will be discussed lastly.


Leadership and Management

Project managers are expected to be leaders, but project management and leadership are two different things. The most effective project managers are both good leaders and successful project managers. According to the DS/ISO 21502 managing a team should aim to motivate the team and maintain a positive work environment, where team members feel involved, perform their best and focus on their assigned work and the project objectives [1]. This requires leadership abilities as well as management abilities. Successful project managers deliver successful projects – they develop their skills through experience in doing their type of projects. On the contrary, successful leaders are courageous, ambitious, confident, and self-aware. They continuously develop the strengths of themselves and their project teams [2]. The performance of both project managers and leaders is measured in the performance of the team, making it even more important for project managers to develop leadership skills. Projects are temporary and do not provide a long timeline for continuous leadership development. The project team is assembled to focus on the objectives of the project and not the leader's improvements. Thus, learning the art of leadership proves to be challenging.

Leaders vs Managers
Leaders Managers
Innovative Administer
Seek challenges Seek to maintain the status quo
Think long term Think short- to mid-term
Motivate and inspire Control
Worry about doing the right things Worry about doing things right
Have a wide circle of influence Have limited influence

Leadership styles

A leadership style refers to the approach that a manager or leader takes to provide motivation and direction to their team and achieve project objectives. There are numerous leadership styles available, each tailored to suit the leader's personal style, team dynamics, and project requirements.

However, each leadership style has its own set of strengths and weaknesses that can influence its effectiveness in various scenarios. Therefore, when choosing a leadership style, it is essential to consider the specific situation and context, such as the project type, team culture, and individual characteristics of the team members. The selected leadership style may need to be adjusted depending on these factors to ensure optimal outcomes.

The six leadership styles by Daniel Goleman[3], are shown below with their strengths and weaknesses.

Strengths and weaknesses of leadership styles
Leadership Style Strength Weakness
Coercive Effective in emergency and crisis situations May lead to resentment and mistrust among team members
Authoritative Provides clear direction and vision for the team May not be effective in situations where the team do not share vision or values
Affiliative Promotes a positive work environment May be inefficient in situations withouth a clear direction
Democratic Encourage open communication and collaboration among the team May be time-consuming and slow in decision-making
Pacesetting Effective in situations where team is competent and motivated Can lead to stress among team members
Coaching Development of team members Require skillful leader

Choosing a leadership style is a very complex and challenging process. Different styles may be more or less effective depending on the specific situation and the people involved. The leader must understand their strength and weaknesses and have to consider their own personal values and communication style, to figure out which style works for them. Furthermore, the leader must understand the situation. What are the project goals, resources, and what is the general state of the project? Understanding the team that is being led is crucial. The leadership style will improve the motivation of the team. Some teams need more coaching, and a coaching style will be more motivating. Whereas, teams that have all the necessary skills to complete the project may benefit from a more empowering leadership style, such as the pacesetting leadership style. All of these factors can change what leadership style will be most efficient for success and due to this being able to adapt is crucial.

A seventh leadership style is situational leadership, see also [| Situational Leadership]. It is a leadership concept that argues that not just one leadership style works for all conditions. Therefore, it is a flexible style where the leader must adapt to the situation and the individuals on the team to be able to lead in the most optimal way at all times,[4]. As this style assesses the maturity level of the people within the organisation and the current project situation, it is a difficult style to master. The leader needs to be able to understand the people involved at a high level and be able to adapt both to the individuals and to the project, meaning the leader must master several leadership styles to be successful.

Leadership Development

Skills and competencies

Each leadership style emphasises different skills and competencies a leader must exhibit to be considered effective. The IPMA defines competence as "The application of knowledge, skills, and abilities to achieve the desired results"[5]. There are many different skills that are important when considering leadership. Deciding which skills and competencies are the most important can depend on what type of organisation the leader is part of. Although, there are some general competencies that will prove relevant in most cases.

Project Manager Competency Development

The Project Manager Competency Development Framework (PMCD) is a framework for defining, assessing, and developing project manager competencies developed by the PMI. It defines key competencies that impact a project manager's performance[6]. The PMCD describes competencies as "a cluster of related knowledge, attitude, skills and other personal characteristics that affect major parts of one's job". The cluster regarding personal competencies can be grouped into six units representing competencies, which can be seen in Figure 1.

Figure 1. PMCD framework people cluster

Each of the units is broken down into more elements reflecting the skills or behaviours related to the competency. The clusters are interconnected and interdependent and it is important to develop competencies across all six areas to be an effective leader.

The Achievement and action cluster defines leaders as task-driven. Their main priority is to complete the project. The competencies related to this are therefore concern for order, quality, and accuracy, as well as the ability to initiate action and seek information. The Helping and human service cluster deals with people. The competencies described are customer service orientation, implying a desire to help others and interpersonal understanding. The Impact and influence cluster focuses on the ability to influence people and the project. The competencies include the competence of impact and influence, which is about influencing others to have an impact. For that to be possible relationship-building competencies are crucial as well as organisational awareness. The Managerial cluster is considered to hold the key competencies for conducting successful projects. The competencies defined in this cluster are teamwork and cooperation, team leadership, which is defined as the desire to lead others, developing others, and directiveness. The Cognitive cluster defines competencies within problem analysis. The two competencies in this cluster are analytical- and conceptual thinking. The last cluster deals with personal effectiveness and the competencies include self-control, self-confidence, flexibility, and organisational commitment [7]

The PMCD also has a Knowledge/Performance competence cluster about risk management, scope management, and so on. These competencies are as the others just as important but are strictly from a project manager's perspective and not a leader's perspective.

IPMA Competence Baseline

Apart from the PMI standards, the IPMA has also proposed a competence baseline which presents a list of necessary competencies [5]. The framework of the competence baseline consists of 29 competencies which are split into three competence areas, but relevant to leadership is the people cluster. The competencies relevant to people are shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2. IPMA Competence Baseline suggested competencies

The self-reflection and self-management competence is about stress--management and reflection of oneself. The purpose of Personal integrity and reliability is to enable the individual to make consistent decisions and behave consistently. Personal communication is about communicating efficiently and effectively in various situations, to different audiences and across different cultures. Relationship and engagement deals with the individual's ability to build and maintain relationships. Leadership is enabling the individual to lead and motivate others. The Teamwork competence is to enable the individual to select the right team members and effectively manage the team. Conflict and crisis has to do with the ability to take effective action when a crisis or conflict arises. Resourcesfulness is about handling uncertainty, problems, change, limitations, and stressful situations, through new and more effective approaches. Negotiation is about reaching agreements through negotiation techniques. Results orientation is about focusing on project success[5].

The competencies are described in depth in relation to project, program, and portfolio management, which ensures the competencies are developed and understood in the right context although the competencies are the same. As with the competencies from the PMCD, the competencies presented here are strictly relevant to leadership development rather than general project management competencies.


Becoming proficient in these skills requires practice since no individual is born mastering all the necessary competencies. Furthermore, different people may excel in different competencies and find some competencies easier to learn than others. This is due to a lot of factors both internal and external. Therefore, being self-aware of what competencies come more naturally and which to specifically focus on is essential to becoming a successful leader. The IPMA Competence Baseline states that several prerequisites should be considered and possibly fulfilled, before starting with competence development, and there should be access to expertise and sufficient resources [5].

The PMCD framework proposes a process for developing competencies. It is based on an iterative process, consisting of three steps[8], which can be seen in Figure 3.

Figure 3. The three steps of developing leadership competencies

The first step is an assessment step, where the purpose is to assess the competence of the project manager or leader.

Many assessment tools can be used to create more self-awareness and to determine what competencies need developing. Self-awareness can potentially lead to the development of all the skills that are needed as it provides insights into what the leader is good at and what needs development. One of the most widely used tools is the Meyers-Briggs type indicator (MBTI). Gehring[7] concludes that MBTI can be used by project managers to help them better understand how their personality type either supports or opposes the traits required for effective leadership. MBTI assesses a person's preferences in four different areas, and based on that provides insight into the person's strengths, weaknesses, and communication style [9]:

1. Extraversion (E) vs. Introversion (I): measures whether the person gets energy from group activities or gets exhausted.

2. Sensing (S) vs. Intuition (N): measures whether the person prefers to focus on concrete details or abstract concepts.

3. Thinking (T) vs. Feeling (F): measures whether the person prefers to make decisions based on logic and objective analysis or personal values and subjective feelings.

4. Judging (J) vs. Perceiving (P): measures whether the person prefers to approach the world in an organised, structured way or in a more spontaneous flexible way.

MBTI can be used to help understand one's preferences and how they impact their leadership style. For example, the personality type ISFJ may prefer the affiliative leadership style as they are extremely committed, well-organised and they are good at considering how their decisions impact other people. ISFJs are good at staying on track with their goals, but they may struggle with strategising and therefore find it difficult when there is not a clear direction.

The assessment tool can also be used to develop and improve skills and competencies. For example, individuals with a preference for intuition, xNxx types, may benefit from developing their strategic thinking skills, while individuals with a preference for sensing, xSxx types, may benefit from focusing more on details and data analysis since their personality has a preference for this.

Once an individual has achieved self-awareness, for example through MBTI, they can take the specific steps to develop the competencies they have identified as needing improvement.

Step 2 in the process is developing a competence development plan. The plan should be made using the information about strengths and weaknesses that were found in the first step and it should be done in a timely manner. Furthermore, the plan should prioritise areas that are more critical to the individual or the organisation.

The last step is to implement the plan and thus develop the competencies. When implementing the plan, it is important to get feedback from colleagues that can provide valuable insight.

While self-awareness is a crucial component of leadership development, there are other factors that can contribute to improving one's leadership skills. As an example, building resilience can help stay focused and motivated during difficult times, while going through the continuous development process.

Case Study

In this scenario, a small team of four members is doing a cross-disciplinary project within IoT, meaning knowledge of software, communication networks, and electronics is needed. One of the members is an expert in electronics, and the three others are software experts. All members have basic knowledge of communication networks but have not worked with it in the past. The team members are from different cultures and have not worked together in the past. The project does not have a clear direction, resulting in the team members not having clear and well-defined roles. This means there is no team member specifically in charge of managing the project and leading them to success. Halfway through the project, the team realises they have major issues finishing the project.

Leading the team to success in this case is an incredibly challenging role for the project manager. The leader is not well-defined, and deciding who will take charge of this can be difficult. Should it be the member with the most experience and knowledge of the project? Or should it be the member who is more outgoing and has better communication skills? As the team does not have full competence to finish the project, the member with more experience and knowledge would be the better choice, since this member will be more suitable to take on a coaching leadership style and help the members who will need it.

The leader needs to take on the role of both a manager and a leader and can do that through the leadership styles and the competencies the leader has. The leader must establish what direction to take the project and ensure all members have the same vision, here the authoritative leadership style will be most suitable. It is characterised by a clear vision and a high level of control. This is especially useful in this case, where the team needs to find a direction and finish the project fast. The leader will also benefit from a coaching leadership style to help the members get the skills to complete their individual tasks. The leader will have to alternate between the two styles in different situations, to be able to successfully lead the project.

In addition to possessing project management skills, the leader must also possess effective leadership skills. Using the IPMA competence baseline, the leader will need skills in personal communication, and conflict and crisis. Project delays and lack of direction tend to cause frustrations to team members which can lead to conflicts. It is also crucial for the leader to possess the results orientation competence to maintain focus on project success. While proficiency in all competencies would be beneficial, it may require significant development that the team leader may not have the capacity to undertake in this scenario.


While leadership styles can be very effective in motivating the team and conducting projects efficiently, there are some limitations to consider. As previously described, leaders who rely on a single leadership style may struggle to adapt to different situations and people. Situational leadership takes this into account, but it may not fit so well with the organisation or the stakeholders. Being able to change between several styles and understanding which situation each style is effective can address this limitation.

The PMCD framework for developing competencies provides a good guideline for developing competencies, but it does come with some limitations. Developing the competencies is based on subjectivity, meaning the assessment of competencies can vary depending on the evaluator's perspective and experience, leading to inconsistencies in the evaluation process. The same goes for leadership styles. Choosing a leadership style is based on the leader's perspective, which may not always be the full perspective.

The PMCD framework does not provide very specific guidance on developing each competence, rather it describes it in depth. The IPMA competence baseline both describes the competence and provides guidance on how to develop them, as well as measures for successful development.

Both the PMCD framework and the IPMA competence baseline concentrate on project, program, and portfolio management competencies, but they do not establish a distinct demarcation between management and leadership. This means they describe competencies that are irrelevant to leadership development. This is good from the perspective of project manager development, but when strictly looking at leadership development, some of the competencies will not apply. Moreover, they do not consider the context in which the project is carried out, such as organisational culture and project complexity. Therefore, developing the competencies in conjunction with the relevant leadership style, to make it more relevant to the specific situation at hand.

Annotated Bibliography

This section provides four key references for additional information on leadership competencies and leadership styles.

  1. Dean R. Gehring, Applying Traits Theory of Leadership to Project Management, PMI 2007: Based on the PMCD framework competencies study how the different Myer-Briggs personality types perform as leaders on the basis of their competencies.
  2. Individual Competence Baseline for Project, Programme, and Portfolio Management, IPMA 2015: The International Project Management Associations suggestion of relevant competencies regarding project, program, and portfolio management.
  3. PMI, Project Manager Competency Development (PMCD) Framework, 2002: Project Management Institutes suggestion of relevant competencies regarding project, program, and portfolio management.
  4. Daniel Goleman, Leadership That Gets Results, Havard Business Review 2000: A study on how effective executives use distinct leadership styles.


  1. DS/ISO 21502, Dansk Standard 2020, p.41
  2. https://www.pmi.org/learning/library/essential-leadership-skills-project-managers-6699#
  3. Daniel Goleman, Leadership That Gets Results , Harvard Business Review 2019
  4. Jennifer Jordan et. al., Finding the right balance - and flexibility - in your leadership style, Harvard Business Review 2022
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 Competence Baseline version 4.0, IPMA 2015
  6. Project Manager Competency Development (PMCD) Framework, PMI 2002
  7. 7.0 7.1 Dean Gehring, Applying Traits Theory of Leadership to Project Management, PMI 2007, p.47-48
  8. Catwright and Yinger, Project management competency development framework - second edition, PMI 2007
  9. https://www.16personalities.com/articles/our-theory#aspects
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