Did you know that leadership, communication and stakeholder management are rated as the top skills required to be a project manager today?

This research comes from the 2021 AIPM Project Management Professional Survey, which had 1,382 responses from project management professionals across Australia, and highlights just how important behavioural project management skills are in a project manager’s toolbox.

Why is project leadership important?

As we see the technical skills of reporting, scheduling, and budgeting being replaced by project management software and artificial intelligence, futurists are encouraging professionals to develop their softer skills. After all, leadership isn’t a skill that can be replicated by machines, instead it is a human centred skill.

With separate research showing project managers currently spend about 90% of their time on communication, being a good leader and communicator is essential to keeping your project on track and ensuring your team members are aware of the role they play in supporting the project and getting it across the line.

In this article, we cover the five stages that a team goes through as per the Tuckman model, created by Psychologist Bruce Tuckman to show you the different leadership styles and when it is most appropriate to use them.

1. The forming stage

The authoritative, visionary leadership style

In the forming stage the project manager should:

  • Ensure team members are aware of their roles and responsibilities;
  • Provide a vision for the project that the team will work towards; and
  • Be clear about the next steps the team will take.

This is the initial stage when a team comes together, or a project commences. Often team members may be nervous as they start on a new project and will be at the very beginning stage of getting to know one another. The way to visualise this is like you’re the master of ceremony at a wedding and your role is to facilitate the seating and introduction, and ensure each of the bridal party knows their role.

The project manager should take the time to explain the vision of the project, why the team has formed, each person’s role, and what the initial tasks will be. Due to the early nature of the project, the visionary authoritative style is best utilised here.

2. The storming stage

The coaching, nurturing leadership style

In the storming stage the project manager should:

  • Focus on creating harmony within the team and encourage relationship building;
  • Guide the team to solve any conflicts or problems that arise; and
  • Stay positive and motivate the team to keep the project on track.

As the project gets underway, team members will become more familiar with one another and this is when conflict can arise, and mistakes may be made. Here the project manager should step in to coach, show, and demonstrate to team members how to plan and work together.

By this stage clear processes should be in place, and each team member should have a good idea of their roles and responsibilities. This is also a good time to look at the unique talents of each team member and who to possibly pair with who.

3. The norming stage

The facilitating, democratic leadership style

In the norming stage the project manager should:

  • Be a facilitator of conversations;
  • Encourage team collaboration and self direction; and
  • Provide the team with the opportunity to solve problems independently.

The norming stage will come when the team members and stakeholders have a better understanding of each other’s behaviours and are starting to model values that the project manager has instilled earlier in the project.

It is now the ideal time for the project manager to empower the team to make decisions and allow other members of the team to lead the discussion. A self-empowered team is what you are trying to cultivate here.

4. The performing stage

The pacesetting, hands-off leadership style

In the performing stage the project manager should:

  • Encourage the team to keep momentum going;
  • Set realistic goals for bringing the project to a close; and
  • Provide guidance where necessary, however trust the team to work independently.

By now, the team should be working well together with a shared vision. This is the perfect time to set realistic goals for completing the project and encourage the team to exceed expectations. If you have played your role as leader correctly the team should be energised and not burnt out by this stage.

Your role as a leader is not to tell the team how to do the work, as they should now know the best ways to achieve their goals. Instead your role is to be more hands-off, while still encouraging them to keep achieving their best as a pacesetter does.

5. The adjourning stage

The empathetic project leadership style

In the adjourning stage the project manager should:

  • Provide support for any tasks that need to be closed off;
  • Acknowledge individual accomplishments; and
  • Take the time to celebrate the successes of the team.

As the project begins to wind down and deliverables have been executed, you will want to ensure that the project closes on a positive note and the team is recognised for all the hard work they have achieved.

The adjourning stage is known to be when people may have feelings of negativity or even mourn the loss of a project coming to an end. Here leadership is about being empathetic and acknowledging both individual and team successes by making it a time of celebration.

As you progress through a project, your leadership style may need to adjust according to the dynamics of the team. You may start by being more authoritative in style and then as the project progresses take a back seat as you allow the team to take the initiative and end on a positive note through empathetic leadership.

The important thing about developing the leadership skills for a career in project management is to have the flexibility to adjust your style whatever the situation demands.