The IIL Blog

LinkedIn Newsletter | Join our Email List
Leadership Tips for Project Managers - Part 3

Leadership Tips for Project Managers – Part 3

By Mike Griffiths
March 29, 2023

Welcome to part three of this four-part series introducing basic leadership ideas that any project manager or Scrum master can employ. Be sure to see article one and two, which explain leadership for project managers, outlines the five leadership roles, and reviews servant leadership.

This article examines leadership styles, motivation, and psychological safety – all critical skills for today’s project manager.

Determine an Appropriate Leadership Style

(Choose the path that best aligns with the situation)

There are many styles of leadership in addition to servant leadership. While servant leadership is usually the dominant theme, there will be times when the team might benefit from some emphasis in one area or another.

A project manager plays a critical team leadership role. This role needs to maintain a healthy balance for getting the project work done and keeping people motivated and engaged. It balances a concern for production and concern for people. Ideally, we want to operate in the upper right quadrants of the images below with a high concern for both people and production.

However, from time to time, priorities change, and alternative leadership styles/emphasis are required. For example, when an important deadline is approaching, it might be necessary to adopt more of a Directing style (lower right) for a short time, knowing there will be Supporting work to do afterward.

Likewise, when conflict occurs on the team, production focus might be sidelined while team issues are resolved or at least stabilized. Long term, we want to be in the upper-right coaching role, but things rarely go to plan for long. Good project managers flex their approach and focus as they adapt and aim to maximize the team’s long-term productivity.

Inspire, Motivate and Influence Team Members

(Create an environment where people want to contribute and do their best)

Inspiring and motivating a team can seem like a daunting task, but much of it comes down to creating a productive environment. When the right components are in place, people will want to contribute. To make such an environment, we need to understand some motivation theory.

Douglas McGregor popularized the “Theory X and Theory Y” approach to worker motivation in the 1960s. He explained that “Theory X” views employees as inherently lazy and that they will avoid work if they can. Management believes that workers need to be closely supervised and comprehensive systems of controls developed.

Theory Y, however, assumes employees are ambitious and self-motivated. They enjoy creative problem solving, but their talents are underused in most organizations. Managers should communicate openly with staff, minimizing the difference between superior-subordinate relationships, creating a comfortable environment in which people can develop and use their abilities. This climate includes the sharing of decision-making so that staff have a say in decisions that influence them.”

There is a close link to servant leadership here. McGregor shows “Management” above the “Staff”, suppressing them in the Theory X model and “Management” below the “Staff” elevating them in Theory Y. These days, most organizations try to adopt more Theory Y than Theory X, since it leads to better motivations. However, probably everyone has experienced Theory X at some point in their careers too.

Another popular motivation theory is Herzberg’s Two-factor theory into job satisfaction and motivation. The two factors are intrinsic (internal) and extrinsic (external). Herzberg asserted that people are motivated by intrinsic factors (such as advancement, growth, and achievement) and extrinsic factors (pay, status, working conditions.)

These extrinsic factors behave more like basic hygiene. People need them to be satisfied, but they are not motivators by themselves. Yet, failure to address these hygiene factors will result in demotivation. These intrinsic motivators and extrinsic demotivators (if not present) as shown as wind and anchors below.

It is easier to motivate people with internal, intrinsic feelings of interesting work, accomplishment and the ability to advance in their careers. When we try to encourage people using external, extrinsic factors such as status and money, they are not as motivating. Instead, they are potential demotivators if not provided. When we know what motivates people (intrinsic motivators) and what upsets them (not having extrinsic motivators), we stand a much better chance of having happy, more motivated teams.

Psychological Safety

We need to create an environment where people feel welcomed and safe to ask questions. Without this, people will not engage or produce anything of worth. We also need to make people feel safe to create and share their work with peers and customers and suggest improvements to the process. These various levels of safety form the domain of workplace psychological safety.

Psychological safety describes how comfortable we are at interacting, contributing, and questioning others at work. In the book “The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety”, author Timothy Clark outlines the following model for understanding psychological safety, which progresses through four stages:

1) Inclusion Safety – the basic human need to belong and be accepted by a group. People need to feel safe to be themselves, including any unique attributes. Without inclusion safety, people feel excluded.

2) Learner Safety – the encouragement needed to learn, experiment, and grow. Safety when asking questions, getting feedback, trying things out and making a few mistakes along the way. Without learner safety, people will be unwilling to try new approaches.

3) Contributor Safety – the feeling of safety required to contribute something and have it judged by others. People will guard their work for too long without contributor safety, waiting for it to be perfect and miss out on early feedback. They will also not feel like they are making a difference.

4) Challenger Safety – having the permission and “air cover” needed to challenge the status quo. To question why things are done that way and suggest ways to make things better. Without challenger safety, retrospectives and improvement initiatives will suffer since no one will speak up and discuss what is wrong.

Project managers can establish psychological safety by modeling the desired behavior. We should admit our mistakes and ask basic questions. Having the courage to “learn out loud” shows we do not have all the answers, and it is okay and encouraged for people to be open.

Be sure to read the fourth and final part of this series on leadership tips for project managers. It wraps up with understanding influence, power and how project managers can create empowered teams that tap into the Drive motivators of autonomy, mastery and purpose. It also covers challenging the status quo and running experiments.

[Source: This article is a sample from “PMillustrated: A Visual Learner’s Guide to Project Management.” That illustrates project management concepts to people who like to see the big picture and explore content graphically.]

Mike Griffiths

Mike Griffiths is an experienced project manager, author and consultant who works as a subject matter expert for PMI. Before joining PMI, Mike consulted and managed innovation and technology projects throughout Europe, North and South America for 30+ years. He was co-lead for the PMBOK Guide—Seventh Edition, lead for the Agile Practice Guide, and contributor to the PMI-ACP and PMP exam content outlines. Outside of PMI, Mike maintains the websites www.leadinganswers.com  about leading teams and www.pmillustrated.com, which teaches project management to visual learners.]

Registration is now open for Agile & Scrum 2023 Online Conference! Learn new agile approaches that will cultivate improved & prosperous business results. Register here!
Mastering Hybrid Approaches for Projects (MHAP)– A course designed to upskill PMPs to the world of Agile/Hybrid working and much more.

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.

Scroll to Top