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Leadership Project Management

Leadership Styles For Project Managers – Practical Guide

Reading Time: 6 minutes

leadership styles

What Is Leadership?

The challenge of leadership is to be strong, but not rude; be kind, but not weak; be bold, but not a bully; be thoughtful, but not lazy; be humble, but not timid; be proud, but not arrogant; have humor, but without folly.” – Jim Rohn

While it is hard to define leadership in a few dozen words, we all know that great leaders stand out by the results they deliver and how they deliver these results. It is a fine balance between a multitude of attitudes like trust, respect, great communication, vision, integrity, etc and will vary drastically based on the situation in hand. A good leader becomes the differentiation between normal results and superior results. He is someone who creates a vision, ignites passions around this vision and inspires people to make that vision a reality.

You could go back in time to find good leaders that you admired at your organization level, country level or across the globe. What do you find inspiring about them ? what would you like to imbibe from them? This is worth some introspection to firm up in your mind on what kind of leader you would want to be predominantly.

Now it is important to know that there are different leadership styles – six well accepted styles per The Hay Group. Good leaders use a combination of these styles based on the situation at hand and the desired outcome. It will serve you well as a good project management leader to understand these styles .

One of the challenges as a new leader you would find that you will need to manage people without having a direct authority over them. To achieve the desired business outcomes a leader must be able to influence people in a positive way. He will need the skill to inspire, engage positively and build trust with people he works with.

Leadership Styles

As you gain knowledge on the different leadership styles you would gain the ability to use them based on the situation at hand and outcome you desire. A good leader should be able to use one or more combinations of these styles as required. It is best not to always fall back to using one’s predominant leadership style but be wise in applying the right style. Remember each style has different effects on the people and outcomes.


The Directive Leadership Style

This is style often misused and can lead to a career ending mistake if not correctly used. This style essentially dictates to the team on what needs to be done and how it should be done. It gives little space to the team and can quickly lead to a negative energy in the team. It can also be called an Autocratic style and tends to use authority and power with punishment directive styleas a means if the directives are not followed.

It is most appropriate when the team is under performing or a situation needs a quick turn around or you have inexperienced people in the team. Often in our experience we found new managers tend to adopt this style (as it is well-known to them) thus leading to a career disaster.

In a recent experience a new manager was quickly isolated by his team as he was using this style with everyone in the team. It led to extreme negativity in the team and big drop in productivity until the management intervened to make him step aside.

Do not use this style with experienced team members, for achieving long term goals or when you have not built a relationship based on trust with the teams. It will fail right away. Use this style judiciously as a combination with other styles only when it is needed absolutely.



The Participative Leadership Style

This is also known as the consensus leadership style or consultative leadership style. In this style the leader strives to build consensus through meetings, hearing everyone’s opinion and letting the team come to conclusions.

It works well when you have to build long term strategies for the business unit or when you want to foster innovation. It alsoparticipative style works well if you are a new manager called in to fix things. It takes the team into account and works well to build trust and cohesiveness as the team works towards a larger goal.

Do not use this style if you need quick results or the team is not matured and experienced enough to participate in the process constructively.

We had a project where we had to get a diverse set of technical contributors to innovate on some problems. The problem was not urgent and we wanted to evaluate multiple options to come up with the best fit. The project manager driving this used the participative style. He ran multiple meetings in which the problem was put on the table and diverse opinions were evaluated. Weeks later there were more than 3 good fit solutions for the problem, the leadership style worked very well !



The Coaching Leadership Style

This style works well with managers who use the growth mindset.coaching style It attempts to work closely with the teams in their development. The leader using this style will align the individual goals with the larger group goals and hand holds them through the process of development.

A leader needs patience while he coaches the team to reach the required level of performance.

It works well when your team is open to the coaching style and take feedback constructively. They have to work in a time bound manner to achieve the desired results. Many organizations encourage the growth mindset to foster people development.

The leader will have to spend a lot more of his time documenting teams weaknesses and strengths and lead them to work through improving them,

Do not use this style if you are a new manager and lack the experience needed to coach. The team will not accept this and will lead to issues. We have seen this fail with new managers.

Do not use it if your team comprises of too many self-willed senior people or you need quick results. Again it is good to use this in combination with other styles and apply it selectively.


There are 3 other leadership styles that you must know off

The Affiliative Leader –

This style is characteristic of being concerned about people’s feelings more than just the job objectives. It strives to build cohesiveness within the teams. Good to use when you are starting new teams, bringing conflicting groups together or you have cross cultural teams. Must be used selectively for achieving the objective of building unity & trust. Use combinations based on the situations but do not make this your predominant style as it will be difficult to achieve long term results


The Pace Setter Leader –

This style is characteristic of being aggressive and direct. Leaders here focus on achieving outcomes quickly and expects the team understands well on the end goal and how to go about it. Leaders using style tend to be direct about low performance and often roll up their sleeves to get hands on when problems occur. Good to use when you have to achieve quick results and you have a performing team. If not this could lead to negativity and team will feel pressurized.


The Visionary Leader –

This style is characteristic of being focused on the long term vision and big picture. It strives to build agreements on the vision to be achieved. Serves well when the leader is starting new initiatives and or is selling a new vision to the team or management. Such leaders come across as subject matter experts who can inspire a team towards achieving a long term goal



In conclusion as you get well versed with the various styles use your wisdom on when to apply which leadership style and always use a combination of these styles to achieve your results. Typically, based on the project life cycle stage you would move to different styles at each phase using it appropriately to achieve your outcomes. Last but not the least make sure you find a good mentor either in your organization or outside that you admire who can coach you to build great leadership styles.


  1. Recommended reading of the all time management classic The Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People By Stephen Covey
  2. Here is a great article by Jon Maner  a professor of management and organizations at Kellogg School of Management on using a combination of leadership styles- read here 
  3. We highly recommend looking up this workshop from Tony Robbins on Inspire Others to Make a Positive Life Transformation
  4. Reach out to us at mymentor@globalmanagementmentors.com for any advice


The authors are senior managers at startups and product development companies. They come with extensive experience in leadership and management of global engineering teams to deliver high quality software products. Each of them are extremely passionate about these topics . They mentor and train project managers on leadership and management.


  1. jessie

    Thank you for the awesome post! I never knew there were so many different types of leaders! I know that typically I am a participatory leader, but I can try and change that to a visionary one!

    • admin

      Thank you for the comments. Once you are aware of the styles one can apply different styles based on the situation.

  2. The Family Explorers

    Interesting read. I appreciate the “Do not use this style…” formatting. It stands out to me, as I learn just as much (if not more) from How Not To Do Something.

    • admin

      Thank you for the comment . Glad you found the writing style helpful . Do visit again for more similar articles.


    This post should reach all managers and leaders out there. I see good people quit because of their supervisors/managers. Being a good leader should be your core character. If you don’t have any of these characteristics, it is your responsibility as a leader to develop them. My leadership style depends on the person I deal with. I have read their resume for knowledge and training reference, and I am keen on their reactions towards any situation. Being a good leader, you should be able to adapt to how you treat your team members and not the other way around.

    • admin

      Thank you for the comments Leslie. You are spot on , on the need for people to develop good leadership skills and be well versed with the styles and when to use them. Yes a sign of a good leader can be determined by how well his team is doing. Like you approach to leadership which is based on the people you have to manage.

  4. Carlton McFall

    Out of all these leadership styles you described my favorites are the Participative, Coaching and Visionary leadership styles. I have had my best relationships with managers who implement these styles as I have always felt I could trust them and push my self to learn everything they know and new things to bring to the company table. Great post!

    Can you give clarification on tips to quickly identify these leadership styles in a manager?

    • admin

      Thank you Carlton for your comments. Yes these 3 styles are most effective . Some quick tips – Participative – Is usually open to other’s suggestions, strives to build consensus and respects other opinions. Coaching – Works closely to identify weaknesses and spends time to offer solutions to overcome them, is hands on and more involved. Visionary – Thinks big picture, works on inspiring the team towards a larger goal, is a subject matter expert. Hope this clarifies your question.

  5. Andrey

    Thank you very much for your fantastic website. It is amazing that you show people where to start and what steps to take towards perfect management and leadership. I hope more people will know about your website and follow your guidance.
    Kind regards,

    • admin

      Thank you for your comments Andrey !


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