Leadership in project management is a hot topic right now and everyone seems to be talking about it. But what does it mean to be a leader? You have probably come across lists of leadership skills before (communication, listening skills and so on) but what about the personal qualities?

Here are the 10 leadership qualities that I think are critical for being a great project leader. As you read through the list, think about how you demonstrate these at work, even if you aren’t in a formal leadership role. Don’t be daunted by the qualities mentioned: you can learn and improve on all of these with experience and practice. Good workplace leaders are not born, they are made and trained, so you can improve your leadership abilities once you know what you are looking for!


1. Courage


Leaders are the ones that take the difficult decisions, so you have to have courage to operate successful in a leadership role. You can do that from the lowest rungs on the hierarchy by taking ownership for the decisions that are in your domain and opening up about your mistakes.

As you move up the organization the impact of your decisions might become bigger but you should still approach them with the courage of knowing you are doing the right thing.


2. Empathy


Good leaders can put themselves in someone else’s shoes. Empathy means being able to see the situation from the other side. This is a great advantage for conflict resolution and also when dealing with difficult situations such as having to let employees go or helping them through a difficult personal situation.


3. Confidence


Being confident helps you succeed in your role at all levels, and it’s also an important quality for leaders. No one wants to follow someone who doesn’t seem confident about where they are going!


4. Trust


You must be able to engender trust so that your team and colleagues find it easy to trust you. This happens through your actions. You can build credibility by delivering on your promises and following up each and every time.

Create systems to help you do this, for example using a personal task list for those things you are waiting on others to complete. Then you can chase them up as necessary.

Trust also relates to keeping confidences confidential. Don’t be the office gossip or you’ll find that people soon stop sharing their concerns and problems, which will make you ineffectual as a project or team leader.


5. Passion


Passion is a hard thing to quantify so maybe it would have been better to call this one enthusiasm. Enthusiasm is infectious and if you believe in a vision or feel excited about an idea, your attitude will rub off on other people. They’ll pick up your passion for the project and hopefully start to feel the same way.


6. Optimism


Peter Economy, writing in Inc. com, says that great leaders are optimistic. In my view, there’s a big difference between being optimistic and forcing yourself to be cheerful and Economy seems to agree. He explains it like this: “They always seem to have a solution, and always know what to say to inspire and reassure. They avoid personal criticism and pessimistic thinking, and look for ways to gain consensus and get people to work together efficiently and effectively as a team.”

That sounds like the kind of leader I would like to work for!


7. Openness


Leaders are open in that they share information when they can. They do their best to create a culture that doesn’t hide data in knowledge silos. You can do this by facilitating cross-functional learning. Have team meetings with a standing agenda of sharing top tips that you’ve learned that week or passing on important bits of news.

Many businesses have mailing lists for certain managerial staff grades and they are expected to cascade relevant communications down to their teams. If you get a news item or communication that you think hasn’t been seen by your team (and it is OK to share), then send it on.


8. Honesty


Following on from openness, be honest about what you can and can’t share. Some data is confidential or can’t be shared at the moment for whatever business reason. If your team or colleagues ask you about it, tell them that you can’t tell them anything right now and explain the reason.

Honesty helps you build trust in the team and is an important part of growing your credibility as a leader.


9. Humility


Humility means not thinking you are better than other people: it’s being humble. It’s an important leadership quality because it gives you the advantage of being able to learn from others. If you don’t approach a situation thinking that you are the best at what you do, you can be open to suggestions for improvements or different ways of approaching the problem.

In the workplace, and especially on projects, this gives you the chance to take advice from your subject matter experts and tailor your plans accordingly. When you listen to the wisdom of your experts, you are drawing on a large and talented pool of individuals and are not confined to what you know personally to be true. Because I guarantee that even if you are the smartest person in the room you are not as smart as the brains in the room combined.


10. Focus


Leaders set a vision for their teams and they know where they are going. This is relevant in project management because you have to have the focus to keep going until the end. You know the deliverables and you have to plan out how to get there, without losing focus on the way.

As a leader, you might have to help others in your team maintain their focus, especially when new (and potentially more interesting) tasks or projects come their way.

Think of some great leaders you know from your organization or from the worlds of politics, media or sport. Which of these qualities do they demonstrate? Which are the qualities you are going to work to develop next?