How to Develop Your Project Leadership Philosophy (And Why)

How to Develop Your Project Leadership Philosophy

What kind of project leader are you? What is it like to work on a team with you? What do you see, that others often don’t?

The more experience we gain as project managers, the more important these questions become. There is no tool, template, or manual of processes in the world that can totally standardize the experience of working with you.

The question is: are you shaping this experience mindfully? Or are you allowing the pressures of the day-to-day, the influence of others, or the bad habits of your organization do it for you?

Too many of us would answer the latter. We are allowing our personal and professional growth to become a kind of “background process,” that is driven and steered by forces outside our consciousness. The longer we operate this way, the harder it becomes to accurately answer the question: “what does your team say about you, after you’ve left the room?”

If you feel stuck and feel that you can’t define the unique-to-you ways in which you approach your work—it may be time to write a personal Project Leadership Philosophy.

A personal Project Leadership Philosophy is a summary of the guiding principles, beliefs, and practices that shape the way you lead projects and teams.

This philosophy should not be static—our industry, our company, our mentors, and our experience should always be influencers of our approach. The key is to get this philosophy on paper so that you can consciously and purposefully consider how you might improve or adapt your style to be more successful.

Project philosophies can look any way you would like them to, so long as they capture meaningful information about the experiences, assets, and liabilities you bring to the role—and how you intend to leverage or mitigate those for greater success.

However, if you’re at a loss as to where to begin, consider following the outline below:

Project Leadership Philosophy Outline

Part 1: Set the Context

Describe your project environment. What industry are you in? Is it heavily regulated? Are there detailed processes firmly in place, or do you have some freedom and flexibility in the way your team organizes its work? All of this is important to get on paper, so that you can see the ways in which your “default” style work with (and against) your current context.

Part 2: Build the Approach

What kind of project leader do you want to be? How will you leverage your personality and experiences to improve the experience of working on your projects (as well as the success of the projects themselves?) Consider the following (but remember that everyone’s answers will be slightly different.)

  • What are your values?
  • What aspects of your work fulfill you? Which drain you?
  • What are the principles of project management that you believe in strongly? Examples might be “just enough process,” or “cut once, measure twice.”
  • What tools have you found to be so helpful, you want to use them every time (whether or not they are required?)
  • What lessons have you learned, and what “checks” have you set for yourself to incorporate them?
  • What are your strengths as a leader, and how can you leverage them?
  • What are your weaknesses as a leader? What have others told you are your weaknesses? How might you compensate for them?

Part 3: Guide the Future

What do you need to do going forward to narrow the gap between the project leader you want to be and the project leader you are today?

Parting Shots

As you deepen or broaden your experience as a Project Manager, you may find that this document must change or evolve to meet the demands of a new project environment—that’s okay! The key is to give focused thought to how you are adding value in your capacity as project leaders.

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