Leadership of a project team requires many skills beyond technical knowledge. A team leader must be able to communicate effectively and work well with all stakeholders.
When management needs a team leader, it may be tempting to pick the candidate with the strongest technical skills. However, leading a project team requires people skills in addition to technical skills. A project manager must be able to communicate effectively with team members, support organizations, clients, and senior management (more information in Project Management Communication Tools). A good leader is knowledgeable and trustworthy with the ability to motivate, train, assess performance, and solve problems.
Team Leader’s Tasks
In many ways a team leader is a translator. Team leaders must understand the client’s needs, the vision of senior management, and the work required of team members. The project manager explains to all stakeholders the activities, needs, and intentions of others. What are the tasks of a team leader? The team leader:
- Is a manager responsible for tasking team members to reach project goals on time and within budget as discussed in The Project Schedule-Powerful Tool for Managers. The project manager reports on the project’s status and any issues in reaching project goals. He or she is also responsible for seeing that documentation and project materials needed to communicate with stakeholders are complete and understandable.
- Is a motivator. To be a motivator, the leader must believe in the project’s outcome and the process to achieve it. They must communicate the vision and the potential benefits of achieving that vision to all stakeholders. A leader understands that team members are individuals and as such may be motivated by different things.
- Is a mentor. People enjoy working in an environment where they learn and have opportunities for advancement. It is up to the team leader to ensure that project employees receive training to do their jobs better—learning new tools and techniques. The project manager should give employees the chance to work in positions in which they can grow, accept more responsibility, and move up in the organization.
- Must build trust. A manager builds trust by doing what he or she says they are going to do. Trust is reciprocal. Leaders trust others and expect them to act in a trustworthy manner.
Team Leader’s Skills
When selecting a team leader, senior management should look for people skills in addition to technical knowledge. The skills required of a project manager include communication with different stakeholders, knowledge of the organization’s goals and procedures, and understanding of how to use tools that facilitate the collection and reporting of project information. Desirable traits of a manager are the ability to listen, openness to feedback, detail-level organization while maintaining a broader outcome vision, and trustworthiness in rhetoric and actions.
Enlightened organizations identify potential leaders early in their careers and offer them mentoring and training to enhance their emerging leadership skills.