Six Ways to Be the Project Leader that Doesn’t Suck

Have you ever had a manager, director, or other form of boss to whom you just wanted to say, “Listen man, you’re ego is really getting in my way”? Okay, maybe those weren’t your exact thoughts. Maybe they were something like, “Hey, stop taking credit for my ideas and my work!” or similar. I believe we have all known or worked with the egotistical “leader” and we can probably all attest to the fact that working for him/her sucks.

My message today is simply this: You know that working for the egotistical leader sucks. So, don’t be an egotistical project leader; be a humble project leader. That way, people don’t think working with you sucks.

Unfortunately, there seem to be some common misconceptions about humility. The dictionary describes being “humble” as “not proud or arrogant; modest”. It also lists the antonyms of humble as “proud, noble, exalted, rude, insolent, elevated”. But for some reason, many equate humility with weakness when the opposite is true.

Dan Rockwell, the Leadership Freak, wrote a post on his leadership blog listing 5 ways to spot a humble leader.  The first on his list is, “Do they focus on others?” This, to me, is the key. So here are six attributes of the humble leader that take the focus off the self and still show true strength and leadership:

1. The humble project leader DOES act more sincerely and authentically – and his team will respect him for it.

2. The humble project leader does NOT degrade herself or others. When given compliments, she doesn’t put herself down by saying, “Oh no, that wasn’t really a big deal.” Instead she will graciously say “Thank you” and give credit to others if credit is due.

3. The humble project leader does NOT take credit for the work of his individual team members. He doesn’t need to because he understands that the great work of his team reflects well on him as a leader by default. Taking the credit achieves nothing but the loss of respect from his team members.

4. The humble project leader DOES value the input of her team members. She realizes that they each specialize in something, which means that they may, at times, know more about what they need to do than she does.

5. The humble project leader DOES include the entire team in planning meetings. He recognizes that six brains are better than his one brain and that when individual contributors have the opportunity to help create the plan, they are more apt to take ownership of their related tasks because they understand the why’s and how’s better and can more clearly define the project goals and objectives.

6. The humble project leader does NOT deal with conflict inappropriately. She steers away from public humiliation of team members and asserting authority to show who’s boss and instead takes the time to talk with them one-on-one; sincerely trying to understand the root of the problem.

In short, I believe that the humble project leader sees that focusing on the people – the team members – (and their needs and successes) is more powerful than focusing on the self: my job, my project, my team, my gantt chart or my dashboard. Project leaders need the people in order for the work to get done and projects to get completed. This is strength, not weakness. This produces better results and consequently makes the project leader look better. The truth is, the leader with an ego problem is usually just overcompensating for their own insecurities. The humble leader is secure enough to let the results of his or her leadership do the talking.

Have you seen the positive effects of humility in your own leadership?

Raechel Logan is creative social media junkie, which works well in her roles as author of the Team Member Advocate blog for AtTask. Additionally, Raechel is also Co-host and Producer of the TalkingWork Podcast about Leadership & Work/Project Management.  For further insight from Raechel, connect with her on Twitter and follow her blog.

12 thoughts on “Six Ways to Be the Project Leader that Doesn’t Suck

  1. This article reinforces my basic philosophy. Be human around team members and allow them to be human too. That includes being vulnerable and making mistakes. Nicely done, Kelly.

  2. Have you ever had a manager, director, or other form of boss to whom you just wanted to say, “Listen man, you’re ego is really getting in my way”? YES … and I’d like to share this article with them but then that might come across as a bit passive-aggressive :-)

    1. I’ve been away from my blog for a while, so sorry for the delay. I’m getting back it and look forward to collaborating. ~Robert

  3. Thanks! Leading a project management team often comes with an overinflated ego – so we could all do with a humility injection into our lives. It’s important not to confuse humble with meek – you can be humble, but still a strong leader. Can I add that a humble leader should give credit and compliments to team members, via the project management software so that it is public or through private comments.

  4. I appreciate the inferred connection b/t humility and not shaming others… To me holistic leadership involves responding to fear/phobia cross sector/team to benefit the person and the deliverables.

  5. Excellent post – it made me think (thanks for that).

    Human Factors and Team Dynamics is the number one driver of successfull projects in my experience. How the Project Leader goes about insuring these factors are managed properly is what separates the good ones from the bad. Setting up team rules at the beginning of the project (including how team members interface), sets a base-line to follow. Also, PM’s need to have good listening skills to be successful.

    Being humble is good.

    Dale M.

  6. Hi Kelly,

    Thank you for posting our images on your blog. Use them as much as you can. I believe you should have downloaded more teamwork images from here:

    Your blog is really good and very helpful.

    I wonder when you will start writing on “Green” project management.

    Do let us know if there is any way that we can contribute.



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