If you want to get a project successfully across the line, having a great working relationship with your stakeholders, clients and team members is key.

We sat down with our Foundations in Project Leadership Workshop facilitator Lisa Harrison, whose experience in Adult Learning spans 23 years, to discuss how can you ensure you have the qualities of a project leader:

Lisa, what have you found to be the most common leadership issues?

What I find often with leadership is people have been promoted for their technical skills. So you might be a fabulous Engineer and end up as a Project Manager in the Engineering space. The only issue is once you move from an individual contributor to a leadership role, what happens is that about 80% of your role is no longer the technical skill, instead it’s enabling other people’s performance in those technical skills.

Where so many leaders fall back, especially in the early days, is going back to doing the role, rather than enabling other people to do it because those relationship and leadership skills are often much harder. Another leadership issue is the mindset of “just telling people what to do”. We call that style of leadership, command and control. It’s very common and it’s a very old-fashioned style of leadership from back in the 1950s. Efficient in a crisis, but unsustainable longer term.

However, these days we’ve started to think about leadership very differently. If you haven’t ever been exposed to the idea that there is an alternative way to lead people that is far more effective, it takes a bit more of an investment in your own skills. It takes an admission from you that it may not come naturally.


“If you invest in your emotional intelligence, ultimately you will get a much high investment for your time and your effort in leading people.”

Lisa Harrison, Project Leadership facilitator


What qualities and characteristics make a good leader?

Project management is an art as well as a science. So, there is the management of process, and then there is the communication and relationship building side. A good relationship with stakeholders will keep things moving effectively. A good relationship with your team will motivate and inspire people to get the job done without you having to look over their shoulder.

People also need to have trust in you that you’re authentic, and that you’re who you say you’re. Be confident enough that you can say to people, “I don’t know, what do you think?”. A good leader is happy to collaborate with their team and that will give their team authority and respect. And frankly by collaborating you will come up with a better answer than you would have on your own.

It’s also important to be consistent and reliable. If you say that you’re going to do something, ensure you do it. If you respond a certain way, be consistent and respond that way tomorrow. You don’t want to be the kind of person where people come into work, or ‘zoom’ into work these days, and they don’t know if you’re going to be in a good or bad mood.

Also don’t forget to have fun, as happiness is a performance enhancer. If people are happy at work they perform better and their discretionary effort, productivity and innovation is higher. Their ability to overcome problems is enhanced and their likelihood to stay on a project is higher. All of these things are influenced by how happy they are.

How can project managers develop their skills to lead a team and manage stakeholders?

We talk about people having EQ (emotional intelligence) and IQ (intelligence quotient). When we think of IQ, we often think of it as fixed and that you can’t increase or decrease your IQ but that’s not the whole truth.

Some people have a high IQ and don’t work very hard. Then there are people who may not be naturally book smart, but they work hard and amazing things happen. Although you may have natural intelligence, how much work you put into developing that intelligence is really what counts. That’s the thing that’s going to be most visible in your academic performance.

EQ is the same. Some of us may have natural talent in one of the EQ pillars. Some may be naturally more self-aware than the rest of the population. You may be naturally better at empathy and reading other people but nevertheless all of these are skills that can be learnt and developed if we take the time and practise. So, the first thing to be aware is that you can develop your skills in emotional intelligence and in leadership.

Why is it so important for organisations to invest in developing leaders’ emotional intelligence?

So many organisational metrics are influenced by culture and emotional intelligence, such as peoples’ personal productivity as an individual, discretionary effort, employee retention and organisational agility. All of those things are directly affected by the leaders’ EQ. It also affects a project’s success because as a Project Manager you can’t do it on your own, you need your team.

You have to build a high performing team, because the pressure is on to bring this project home. You don’t get sustained good performance by barking orders; over time you will burn through people. Leadership is about setting the benchmark high, holding yourself accountable to that, and giving people every support so you can help people meet that benchmark.

What will the two-day workshop cover?

In the workshop we take theory and look at how we can make it practical. We turn the theory into small chunks of applicable behaviors, which Project Managers can apply with their team straight away.

In the two day workshop, participants have the opportunity to practise their leadership skills and apply them. We also bring it back to a project management context because everyone in the room is a project professional. Everybody has that shared context, so they all have that same sense of familiarity. We bring that into the room, and we talk about the application in real life.

So that theory becomes really tangible. Instead of having the huge topic of leadership we will break things up, such as here are the three steps to a good feedback conversation, here is an insight into your default behaviour style or how you can flex your behavior to consider your teams’ needs. We will look at everyday behaviour changes. I’m looking to give people the tools and skills to leave the workshop with the self-motivation to go out and practise what they have learnt.

If you’re interested in finding out more about our upcoming two-day workshop with Lisa Harrison, download our course guide here.