​The 7 traits of conscious project leaders

​The 7 traits of conscious project leaders

These are traits that are immediately recognisable in conscious project leaders. Traits that you don’t see in many other people responsible for projects. Traits that you remember and talk about.

At a recent event, someone asked me what were the key traits of conscious project leaders. It’s a tough question to answer as I'm always worried that people are looking to short cut the effort involved in becoming a great project manager. You really can’t do this.

Project management is often referred to as ‘the accidental profession’, yet there's nothing accidental about learning to lead, building teams and being technically good at what you do. This is what conscious project leaders do. They choose to be the difference.

Having given it some thought, there are 7 traits that are immediately recognisable in conscious project leaders. Traits that you don’t see in many other people responsible for projects. Traits that you remember and talk about.

Traits that you then expect of all project managers and are frequently disappointed.

1. They have vision

They know that to create a project that means something, they have to build a vision first. Create a statement of intent around what the future looks like once the project has been completed. They know that this provides clarity and excitement and allows the team to connect what they do on a daily basis, to the future of the organisation.

“A vision releases us from the weight and confusion of local problems and concerns, and allows us to see the long clear line.” – The Art of Possibility, Benjamin and Rosumand Stone Zander.

2. They ‘role model’ the right behaviours

They understand that it's behaviours that will make their leadership style memorable, both positively and negatively. They understand that to succeed they need to be kind, caring, thoughtful, proactive and courageous and that anger, aggression, deceit and selfishness will only undermine what they’re trying to achieve.

They know that consistently displaying positive behaviours will encourage a supportive and productive culture.

3. They know the team well

And I don't just mean their name and job title. They could get that by looking at LinkedIn. They take the time to understand each individual at the start of the project. Their experience, their personality, their family, the things they enjoy and the things they don’t.

They understand what it means to be empathetic and can recognise when things aren't right. They encourage, reward and recognise and won’t get down on you for being human.

4. They create teams of leaders

They understand that for projects to be delivered in line with stakeholder expectations, they can’t become the bottleneck for decisions. They know that only through creating a team of people that can readily accept responsibility, can they expect to succeed.

They don’t just explain tasks; they explain the behaviours, techniques and communication skills required to be successful. They mentor their team to be better versions of themselves in the name of progress.

“It is your job to generate the basic attitude of the group and give direction to the decisions that your people are going to make.” – Emotional Capitalists, Martyn Newman.

5. They know their stuff

They understand the value of the paperwork in relation to what they need to achieve. They can articulate the benefits. They're proficient at the planning techniques. They know the language (and know when to use it). They can do visual. They can do detail.

They can be agile and waterfall. They can facilitate, stand-up and sit down for meetings. They manage risks, deal with issues and understand the importance of reporting. They never use methods as a crutch or a stick.

6. They put stakeholders at the heart of everything

They understand for the project to be considered successful, then customer satisfaction is paramount. Satisfaction with the design, build, test and implementation of the products.

Satisfaction with the process or methods used to get there. Satisfaction with the way that they lead the team and keep the stakeholders informed. Satisfaction with the timeliness of information provided. Satisfaction with the progress against the constraints set for the project. They always ask, “what's the right thing to do by the customer?”

7. They make hard work fun

They are fully aware, through their experience, that projects are stressful and take all necessary steps to ensure that this stress isn’t borne unnecessarily. They look for ways to leverage the humour within the team by encouraging working environments that spark interest and create conversations.

They take their work seriously but not themselves and ensure that the team do likewise. They create events that remove hierarchies and that create stories, talked about for weeks afterwards.

“A WOW project is dynamic, stimulating, a major bond builder with co-workers...inspiring...where everyone else wants to be.” – The Project 50 (Reinventing Work), Tom Peters.

You never forget conscious project leaders. They’re so much more than seven traits, yet they will tell you that they're just doing their job. They take none of the credit for successes and all of the blame for failures.

In a world full of continual project failures, we need more conscious project leaders. Will you join us?

Colin Ellis is the author of The Conscious Project Leader and works with organisations to evolve their project management cultures. You can find out more about Colin by visiting his website at

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