By Dr. Michael Shick, MSPM, PMP, CSM
November 1, 2023
Think back to the various project leaders and managers you have worked with professionally. As you reflect, have you experienced a leader who truly knows themselves, stands firm on their morals, and genuinely understands their team? The era of robotic, detached leadership is fading, and in its place, a more genuine approach is emerging — poised to reshape organizational cultures.
Authenticity goes beyond just being “real.” It’s about leaders who consistently self-reflect and understand their journeys, whether good or bad. They uphold their ethical foundation and maintain an objective “true north”. They are deeply engaged with their teams based on shared experiences and make decisions only after comprehensively weighing all perspectives, regardless of whether or not they agree with external views.
Think of a work environment where you and your coworkers feel understood and valued by leadership, and internal values reflect the organizational mission. Genuine leaders drive this culture. And the results? Increased work performance and productivity, trust, higher engagement, and a thriving organizational culture.
Explore the importance of authentic leadership. By doing so, you’ll discover the components of authentic leadership and how, by being genuine, you can be the catalyst for positive cultural transformation in your organization. Lead your organization towards genuine leadership and witness the transformation.
Project team members in a collaborative environment, benefiting from a positive ethical climate established by authentic leadership.
Authentic Leadership Matters. Authentic leaders, grounded in self-awareness and a solid moral base, have the ability to reshape and positively influence organizational cultures. Their genuine approach fosters trust and encourages open communication within teams.
Core of Authentic Leadership. Authentic Leadership isn’t just about being “real.” It’s about deep self-reflection, understanding personal journeys, and maintaining a solid ethical foundation. In organizational contexts, such leadership ensures employees feel understood and valued, improving work dynamics and trust.
Tangible Benefits in Project Management. Beyond task execution, authentic leaders understand that trust, higher engagement, improved morale, stakeholder satisfaction, and adaptability in project management are the bedrock of effective project management. These leaders not only ensure successful project execution but also enhance team motivation and adapt to changing dynamics.
Path to Authentic Leadership. Adopting Authentic Leadership is a personal journey, and while being true to oneself, it’s vital to be considerate of team members and stakeholders. This leadership style is an ongoing commitment that demands regular self-reflection and adaptability.
A workshop session in progress, promoting positive psychological growth and emphasizing the essence of genuine leadership within project management.
What is Authentic Leadership?
Authentic Leadership consists of approaches that emphasize the importance of authenticity, whereby leaders are true to themselves and their moral values while promoting openness. The leader is self-aware and ethical in their interactions and only makes snap decisions once they hear counter perspectives. Unlike leadership styles that merely prioritize result-oriented strategies or hierarchical controls, Authentic Leadership centers on transparency, integrity, and building trust in union with result-oriented decision-making.
In the project management space, because an authentic leader is self-aware, they acknowledge their strengths and weaknesses and leverage team members to complement that understanding and are able to relate with the project team. Through relational transparency, these project leaders empower team members, foster creativity, and encourage open communication. Their leadership actions not only boost morale but also enhance project outcomes as team members feel valued and understood.
- Relational Transparency. Relationally transparent leaders are genuine in conveying their thoughts, feelings, and experiences, which promote trust and understanding within their teams.
- Balanced Processing. Fairly consider all relevant opinions before deciding. This is a leader who actively solicits views and feedback. Doing so ensures that decisions are grounded in comprehensive thought and perspectives.
- Internal Moral Perspective. A leader’s self-regulation is based on internal values and morality. Leaders with internalized moral perspectives act consistently with their principles and demonstrate a genuine commitment to what they believe is right and just. It is paramount that a leader’s internal moral perspective is rooted in objective truth.
- Self-Awareness. A cornerstone of authentic leadership, self-awareness is the conscious knowledge of one’s character, feelings, motivations, strengths, and weaknesses. Self-aware leaders guide their actions with introspection and self-understanding.
Benefits of Authentic Leadership in Project Management
In project management’s dynamic and collaborative work environment, merely managing tasks is not sufficient. It’s essential to foster an environment that enhances team dynamics, builds trust with stakeholders, and achieves desired project outcomes.
Trust Building. When authentic leaders are open and transparent, they build deep levels of trust with their teams. This trust is critical for open communication, transparency, and successful project execution.
Higher Engagement Levels. Trust and open dialog often lead to higher engagement levels among team members, and in turn, translates to increased productivity and motivation.
Improved Morale. When leaders meet people where they are and establish genuine connections, teams thrive because there is a sense of being valued and understood, elevating team morale.
Stakeholder Satisfaction. Stakeholders appreciate and are more likely to support project managers who are genuine in their communications and actions because they are trusted.
Adaptability. Based on project managers knowing themselves, they are more likely to adapt to changing project dynamics and challenges quickly.
A diverse group of project professionals brainstorming, showcasing their capacities greater than before, inspired by the principles of authentic leadership.
Critical Considerations if a Project Manager Wants to Lead with Authenticity
While integrating authenticity into Project Management may seem straightforward, there are nuances that one should be aware of. First and foremost, we must practice authentic leadership, which is deeply personal. Every individual’s experience, values, and perspectives will shape their style, and that’s the point. Everyone brings their personal touch. Authentic leaders acknowledge and respect the diversity in approaches.
That said, it’s critical to understand that authenticity doesn’t equate to oversharing or being bluntly honest without consideration. Authenticity requires a balance of being true to self while also being sensitive to the needs and feelings of team members and stakeholders.
A project manager must also remember that authentic leadership is a continuous journey. Regular self-reflection, seeking feedback, and willingness to adapt are essential. While tools and techniques in project management may evolve, the core principles of authentic leadership remain constant to build genuine relationships.
How to Elevate Your Authentic Leadership in Project Management
After integrating authentic leadership into Project Management, it’s time to elevate your game. Begin by actively seeking out mentorship from seasoned leaders who demonstrate authentic leadership qualities in complex projects. Their experiences and insights can offer valuable lessons and expand your leadership toolkit. Additionally, consider attending workshops and conferences focused on project management, authentic leadership theory and practice, and emotional intelligence. In doing so, these gatherings may provide advanced techniques and expose you to diverse perspectives. Another consideration is to be proactive in taking on challenging projects that push you out of your comfort zone. This approach affords the opportunity to face and overcome challenges. You will not only refine your project management skills but also deepen your understanding and practice of authentic leadership.
Alternatives to Authentic Leadership in Project Management
While Authentic Leadership offers considerable benefits to project management, it’s important to recognize that it’s not the only leadership style available. Transformational leadership emphasizes inspiration motivation and fosters an environment of innovation and creativity. While it is missing the necessary foundation of morality, which industry has seen play out in cases such as Enron, this style is instrumental in rapidly changing sectors or overseeing a team that needs a morale boost.
Another option is Servant Leadership. This approach focuses on serving the team’s needs above all else and, by doing so, ensures they have the resources and support required to succeed. The drawback of it is maintaining the balance of taking care of people while simultaneously prioritizing organizational needs.
Lastly, Transactional Leadership is a more structured and rule-based approach, valuing clear guidelines and immediate feedback. This style might be more suitable for projects that require strict adherence to processes and deadlines. It’s worth noting that the best project managers must remain fluid in their leadership approach and draw on the appropriate leadership approach based on project needs and team dynamics.
A project manager reflecting, using introspection to foster greater self-awareness and uphold an internalized moral perspective in leading projects.
Final Thoughts on Authentic Leadership in Project Management
Integrating Authentic Leadership into Project Management isn’t just a fashionable trend; it is the root of transformational leadership. It’s a transformative approach that ensures project success while nurturing a cohesive and engaged team. It emphasizes genuine connections, transparency, and leading with integrity, making it a win-win for both managers and their teams.
In my journey through project management, I’ve witnessed firsthand the remarkable positive psychological outcomes when authenticity is at the helm. For example, working with team members who suffered from invisible wounds, I could draw on my experience and meet individuals where they were and walk with them toward recovery. This too supports them, but also helps them increase their work performance and productivity. It is because of authenticity that we were able to build stronger relationships with one another as well as with stakeholders.
Authentic Leadership has been an indispensable tool in my leadership approach. I highly encourage everyone to consider leveraging authentic leadership principles and making them a cornerstone of your project management strategy.
- Luthans, F., & Avolio, B. J. (2003). Authentic leadership: A positive development approach. In K. S. Cameron, J. E. Dutton & R. E. Quinn (Eds.), Positive organizational scholarship (pp. 241-261). San Francisco, CA: Barrett-Koehler.
- Project Management Institute. (2017). A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide) (6th ed.). Project Management Institute.
- Walumbwa, F. O., Avolio, B. J., Gardner, W. L., Wernsing, T. S., & Peterson, S. J. (2008). Authentic leadership: Development and validation of a theory-based measure. Journal of Management, 34(1), 89-126.
Dr. Michael Shick, MSPM, PMP, CSM
Dr. Michael J. Shick, MSPM, PMP, CSM, founder of ROSEMET, is a combat-wounded warrior and retired senior military officer turned esteemed academic and project management expert. Holding a doctorate from Creighton University and serving as an Assistant Professor at Western Carolina University, Dr. Shick’s dedication goes beyond credentials, as he commits to empowering individuals and organizations toward project excellence. With an extensive military, academic, and project leadership background, he epitomizes resilience, expertise, and a steadfast devotion to fostering growth and success in others.
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Disclaimer: The ideas, views, and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of International Institute for Learning or any entities they represent.