Project Management with Style: Adapting your Style to the needs of your Project


By: Emily Walsh, Director


Adaptability: it’s one of the most frequently touted skills that employers are seeking, and demand for adaptability is on the rise. Now more than ever, employees are facing immense amounts of change and complexity. There’s no sidestepping it: the coronavirus pandemic has presented us with many new challenges and uncertainties. Jobs, co-workers, teammates, and technology are all changing rapidly: the workplace is now about the “survival of the adaptable”.


For example, a recent study from the Center for Creative Leadership noted that “the inability to develop or adapt was the most frequently cited reason for career derailment among North American managers. This is because inflexible leaders limit the adaptability of others. New initiatives may be halted or stifled.”





But wait, what does this have to do with Project Management? Well, we already know that project managers are no strangers to the herculean task of helping others adapt to change (see my previous posts on Project Management and Change Management). A big part of effective project management is helping project team members and organizations adapt to change, particularly when managing a project related to technological transformation. Sometimes, however, it’s easy to forget that we also have to grow and adapt our own project management style to help our organizations achieve success.


Six Dimensions of an Adaptable Project Management Style


  1. Negotiation: Most members of a project team will not be dedicated on a full-time basis to your project and are likely balancing competing priorities from their supervisors or other projects. Under these circumstances, project managers will have to negotiate with project team members (and their managers) to set their work priorities and schedules. Negotiation skills will require that a PM have the ability to both relate to - and see things - from other people's points of view.

  2. Prioritization: Tied to negotiation, effective project managers must be comfortable discussing priorities and achieving agreements with team members. However, this can be challenging if schedules need to change during a project to accommodate shifting priorities for project team members. Thus, project managers need to be comfortable prioritizing (and often re-prioritizing) as needed. Effective PMs should have a good understanding of the overall “priority landscape” of their organization, and a comfort level with ongoing prioritization conversations.

  3. Communication: As a PM, you need to communicate with your project team members, executive sponsors, and other stakeholders. Communication is not a “one-off” process. The best PMs communicate well and often, crafting their messages for the needs of each audience (for example, sharing more details with project team members, and focusing on providing higher-level overviews for sponsors and stakeholders).

  4. Achieving Commitments: To run a successful project, a PM needs to ensure that the team has a shared understanding of the project’s priorities and has built the team’s buy-in to the project’s goals and objectives. Achieving commitments requires building trust with project team members and highlighting the “why” of the project.

  5. Delegation: Project managers cannot do everything themselves - and they shouldn’t! If you try to do everything yourself, you will alienate your team. The best PMs recognize and use people’s strengths and skills and assign the most appropriate person to each task. This delegation of tasks may need to be negotiated and prioritized against the overall project requirements.

  6. Leadership: Finally, project managers have to be strong leaders. The best PMs are those who are open, build trust, and motivate their teams - and they do this by leading by example. They make decisions and accept responsibility for them, admit mistakes and learn from them, and provide encouragement to team members. Project managers enable success by helping and facilitating other’s work. If you don’t trust your team members to get things done, they will not trust you. For a project manager, leadership doesn’t come from being the “star of the team” - rather, project managers enable and support their team members in becoming the stars of the project.


In closing, project managers need to develop a style of management that aligns with the needs of the team and leans on skills of negotiation, prioritization, effective and frequent communication, achieving commitment through trust, delegating work based on skills and strengths, and leading by example.