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Major Leadership Theories and Styles in Project Management

19th Feb, 2024
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    Major Leadership Theories and Styles in Project Management

    Leadership is an important attribute in the field of project management. It requires effective communication skills along with keen perceptions to understand the needs of the team members in general. There are specific leadership theories and styles that determine how specific individuals can be great leaders. These theories generally emphasize the characteristics of an individual and their distinct actions that make them good leaders.

    Project managers mainly rely on data and use tools like Gnatt charts and time tracking to achieve optimal results. If you want to learn about leadership theories in management and get certified, do go for best Project Management certifications. Earning this certification will aid you in learning various things about project management and increase your job-finding potential.

    What Makes a Leader?

    Organizational leaders confront various problems depending on their rank. Yet regardless of your position—individual contributor, first-line manager, mid-level leader, senior executive, or somewhere in between—there are four fundamental leadership skills you should concentrate on as your career progresses.

    Essential Leadership Skills

    1. Self-Awareness

    In other words, to be as efficient as possible in leading others, you must first know yourself and lead yourself. It's far from easy to become more self-aware, though. It requires purposeful effort to evaluate your inherent talents and developmental chances, decide how to utilize your skills best, make up for your inadequacies, and become aware of your beliefs, biases, and viewpoints. More self-awareness is attained by thinking about these things and how your upbringing and social identity have influenced you. Finally, having a deeper understanding of yourself as a person will make you a better leader.

    2. Communication

    We all need to build and hone our communication abilities throughout our careers since it is one of leadership's most fundamental, all-encompassing aspects. One of the leaders' most crucial leadership skills is effectively communicating information and ideas. Together with "leading people," "participative management," and "creating and mending relationships," communication is a fundamental component of many other essential leadership competencies. The communication process includes speaking and hearing clearly and writing clearly. Communication in leadership broadens as you advance in your career, encompassing actions like fostering conversation, fostering trust, communicating vision and strategic intent, and enlisting others in your cause. Communication is a crucial talent at every level of leadership.

    3. Influence

    You may better explain your vision and goals, coordinate others' activities, and win the support of individuals at all levels by honing your influencing and leading skills. Influence is about getting along well with people you have no authority over while starting your career or in individual contributor jobs. It necessitates the ability to argue persuasively with reasoning and engage in give-and-take. Eventually, or in higher-level or executive positions, influential leadership abilities are more concerned with guiding long-term aims, motivation, and inspiration. Yet, influence is a critical leadership talent throughout your career. Influence ultimately enables you to get down to business and produce desired results.

    4. Agility

    We must be engaged, flexible learners to grow as leaders and people. To expand their leadership, leaders must be in a constant state of learning, appreciating, and seeking out experiences. They must also know when new leadership behaviors, abilities, or attitudes are necessary and take ownership of developing them. The ability to learn quickly from mistakes, ask intelligent questions, and be open to feedback are all essential for professional longevity. Also, it entails picking up new abilities fast, utilizing learning chances and life experiences, and reacting appropriately to novel circumstances.

    Leadership Styles?

    1. Bureaucrat

    A hierarchy-based leadership style known as bureaucratic leadership is one where formal responsibilities are set. Leaders who use this technique follow the official rules established by superiors inside the firm. Workers reporting to this leadership adhere to certain powers and norms established by their bosses. Bureaucratic leadership has a definite line of command, strict standards, and follower obedience. This leadership style is appropriate for highly regulated organizations, companies, and government entities with a rigid structure that operates according to predefined regulations. The leadership style can also benefit organizations that require staff to adhere to established procedures.

    2. Autocrat

    An individual who controls decision-making and governs subordinates with little to no input is said to have an autocratic leadership style. Autocratic leaders choose based on their ethics, morals, and beliefs, and they rely solely on their knowledge and experience and do not consult anyone else. In the modern world, authoritarian leadership is typically employed to seize control and move the team ahead rather than for improper purposes.

    3. Diplomat

    The term "shared leadership" also refers to a diplomatic leadership approach, and it assists in motivating the team to accept accountability for decisions. Diplomatic leaders place a high value on interpersonal harmony. A diplomatic leader is defined as being compassionate and giving, and they are likely to develop strong personal relationships with their staff. Their ability to act as the social glue and affiliative force frequently keeps their team together. Diplomatic leaders seek to handle issues amicably when they happen, but they would prefer to avoid war entirely.

    4. Expert

    The focus of this leadership style is knowledge and skill. This type of manager mainly relies on their expertise while expecting their staff to be subject matter experts in their fields and complete assignments independently. They should be aware of what to do if they are experts. Coordination is one of the drawbacks of this method. When you want everyone to be the master of what they do and give them the autonomy to do it, coordinating all of these people can be difficult.

    5. Quarterback

    Every offensive play relies on the leadership of the quarterback. Every quarterback manages their team differently. Some leaders rule with an iron grip and expect respect from their subordinates—some lead by being incredibly personal and caring about every teammate. Most people set a good example. By their actions, they demonstrate to the team or company how to excite others and create a culture favorable to success. Words are meaningless in comparison to deeds and outcomes.

    What are Leadership Theories in Project Management?

    Leadership theories are preliminary academic models that venture the ideas of certain schools of thought to make someone a leader. Project management primarily focuses on the concept of making great leaders who will have the potential to manage tough projects with ease. These theories help in examining the characteristics and the behaviors of the leaders and analyze which characteristics will be appropriate to become a great leader in the future. The models could be studied directly from their leadership styles and capabilities.  

    Some people often confuse leadership with management. Management talks about managing an entire team and taking sole responsibility for any discrepancies that arise in the team. Leadership, on the other hand, focuses on guiding and leading the team toward the correct path to achieve success. Management on the other hand focuses on successful team operations. However, leadership on the other hand focuses solely on building the motivation and momentum of the team to follow a particular vision in the future.  

    Understanding leadership theories in project management are extremely pivotal in today's era. This is because leadership does not always abide by a specific dynamic. Every leader has their dynamic for leadership to abide by to be successful in life. Project management leadership theories differ from person to person. If an individual is new to the concept of leadership, project management helps them in getting valuable insight about how they should proceed in skills such as negotiations, coaching, and influencing their team members.  

    A leader is considered to be the rudder on a boat that steers the ship and keeps its course. Leadership determines the involvement of manager in a particular team and abides by certain leadership theories that the project management recommends. It is the duty of the manager to look after the needs of the stakeholders and applying traits theory of leadership to project management.  

    Importance of Leadership Theories

    1. Change Facilitators: Leaders apply their expertise and abilities to adapt the organization to the change. Leaders encourage change in a corporate enterprise since evolution does not occur organically.

    2. Guidance Providers: Excellent leaders don't always have positions of power. These persons have extensive knowledge of human behavior and cognition, making them effective resource providers for those in need.

    3. Resolves Conflicts: Successful leaders are noted for their ability to solve problems, and their talents enable them to resolve conflicts and create a positive working atmosphere.

    4. Increases Job Satisfaction: A personal bond between a leader and each team member is established by effective leadership, which fosters the development of each employee's career. Furthermore, it improves job satisfaction.

    5. Creates a Positive Work Environment: Excellent leaders use their talents and knowledge to make a positive work environment in the company enterprise. It also promotes growth and boosts job satisfaction.

    Top 12 Leadership Theories in Project Management

    Leadership styles

    Here are some top leadership theories and styles of project management that will help you get insight into how to be a good leader and answers the question "What are the theories of Project management?"

    1. Transformational Leadership Theory

    This leadership theory primarily focuses on the seamless relationship between the leaders and the staff that can help the organization reach great heights. This leadership theory contends effective leadership that inspires workers to go above and beyond what they are capable of. They develop a vision that motivates the team members to realize it and implement those in real-life operations.

    The leaders who practice this particular leadership theory have the following aspects:

    • They are capable of self-managing the staff.
    • These leaders focus on setting an example for people.
    • They give communication and any kind of interaction the utmost priority.
    • They are very proactive at work.
    • They promote the development of the employees.
    • These leaders are approachable to fresh concepts.
    • These leaders have the capability to make difficult choices.

    2. Leader-member Exchange

    This leadership theory is primarily based on categorizing two groups in opposition: The manager and the staff. The staff is further subdivided into two groups: the in-group and the out-group member. This leadership theory is somewhat unhealthy and focused primarily on the bias of the leader. For example, in a project, a project manager will certainly encourage some team members with their ideas and allow them more responsibility. While, on the other hand, the other members who are not in favor of the manager will be assigned mundane tasks. This leadership theory is not very healthy and can impact the team badly their capabilities.

    3. Adaptive

    Adaptive leadership is one of the healthiest leadership theories that mobilizes the entire team. This helps the team to reach their full potential and act seamlessly to tough challenges. This type of leadership mainly focuses on and aims at thriving through a challenging environment and taking up a task that is going to act as a brain teaser for the team as well as the managers. This is a process that should be done meaningfully and hence the process is accepted both individually and collectively.

    4. Strengths-based

    This theory majorly focuses on the individual strength to handle the project with the utmost capability. This theory believes that to have successful leadership, it is important that the team members as well as the project manager use their strengths and competencies to lead the project ensuring a good job in the end. This method is used in several organizations to ensure efficient productivity and success. This primarily focuses on the individual strength along with their competencies to lead and do a good job in the end. The basic tenet of this leadership theory is the exponential growth of people by building their strengths and keeping aside their weaknesses.

    5. Servant

    This leadership theory was popularized by Robert Greenleaf. This theory places the needs of others above one's self-interest. This idea is associated with serving first, rather than the person who is being led. This leadership theory is further categorized into three sub-sections. They are:

    • Bureaucratic or Transactional Leadership: Primarily focuses on leading through normative rules and regulations with strict discipline and systematic control.
    • Traditional or Feudal Leadership: One of the most primitive leadership theories and styles that believe in the legitimacy of governance, loyalty, and faithfulness.
    • Charismatic or Transformer Leadership: The leadership theories in this area are categorized in form of characteristics of dedication, heroism, and illumination. In this particular theory, the followers or the team members build trust by focusing on the charisma of the leader's vision as well as their mission.

    6. Transactional Leadership Theory

    This is one of the oldest theories of leadership. This arose during the time of the Industrial Revolution in the 15th century. This leadership app primarily focuses on the value of hierarchy that chooses to enhance the effectiveness of an organization. The managers in this theory place themselves in significant high importance. They aim to structuralize and utilize their authorities to enforce rules that further inspire the staff to perform at their best level. This complies with the workers or the team members for complying with the dominance of the manager in general.

    The leaders that follow Transactional Leadership Theory focus on targeting the following aspects:

    • Focuses upon targeting the immediate objectives of the projects.
    • Always in favor of standardized procedures and regulations.
    • Make changes that comply with the preference of the project.
    • Discourages the original thought.
    • Emphasizes only one's interest.
    • Encourages hard work.

    7. Great Man Theory

    This is a popular theory of leadership that makes assumptions about the qualities of leadership to be inherent. This further speaks about how a leader is born and cannot be created or learned. This is one the most primitive theories of leadership that focus on making a strict hypothesis that leaders have certain innate flexibilities and differential characteristics from other people. The characters are:

    1. Glamor
    2. Decisiveness.
    3. Wisdom.
    4. Dare to take challenges.
    5. Assertion.
    6. Appeal.

    This further emphasizes that the qualities of leadership come naturally and cannot be acquired no matter what. This leadership theory is considered to be the pinnacle of all leadership theories that check over time whether the individuals possess the skills of leadership or not.

    8. Trait Theory

    The trait theory is somewhat similar to the Great Man Theory of leadership. This presides on the idea that effective leaders and managers have certain skill sets that sets them apart from other people. Applying the traits theory of leadership to project management is widely important to understand leadership roles. This is solely dependent upon the predicament of effective leadership-induced personality qualities and features of their behavior. These people are bound to become great leaders due to several circumstances present. They are:

    • Possessing an emotional equilibrium.
    • Acknowledging one's duty.
    • Competency.
    • Recognizing any obstacle.
    • Thinking with action.
    • Having the expertise to motivate people.
    • Impeccable communication skills.
    • Possesses immense tenacity and flexibility.
    • Making assertive decisions.

    To date, in many organizations, leaders are chosen according to the usage of the trait approach.  

    9. Behavioral Theory

    Behavioral leadership theories primarily focus on the actions of the leaders and the intimation of reciprocatory actions of other leaders. This theory contends on focusing upon the behavior of a leader and identifying with the help of an indicator how successful their leadership is. Behavioral learning consistently focuses on the leadership theories and styles of people-oriented leaders. Leadership theories behavioral theory focus on sample leadership styles to achieve optimal success.  

    10. Contingency Theory

    Contingency theory is detrimental to determining the optimal strategy for leading an organization. According to this theory, no particular company or organization can run focusing on one particular theory. The right candidate for leadership would fit the scenario according to the contingency theory. The following characteristics are the elements that influence our leadership styles. They are: 

    • Management Approach.  
    • Working speed.  
    • Organizational policies and cultures.  
    • Spirit of the employees.  
    • Employee maturity.  
    • Relationship between coworkers and the other members of the team.  
    • Abiding by the objectives of the organization.  
    • An environmental routine at work.  

    These management strategies help the organization to achieve optimal goals in a given situation as decided by the leader.  

    11. Situational Leadership Theory

    Situational Leadership Theory is a tad bit similar to the contingency Theory. It emphasizes the significant concept that the leader should adjust and shift contexts and achieve objectives while making judgments. The level of competence of the leader will be determined based on how the situation is handled by them. The essential characteristics of the situational theory are:  

    • Developing a connection in the workforce.  
    • Encouraging the employees.  
    • Recognizing methods of alternate leadership theories that are required for the given situation.  
    • Developing teams and organizational units.  

    These theories are very beneficial for being a flexible leader in a company. It helps in determining which theory will be appropriate for every other situation.  

    12. Participative Theory

    This is not a very popular leadership theory among large corporate businesses. However, this theory centers on the notion that the leader is much of a facilitator. This is also referred to as democratic leadership which plays a key characteristic where the employees play an active role in different levels of decision-making. The main role of the leader is to collect input from the group and synthesize that input to reach an optimal decision. The participants have a day on this leadership, but the say of the leader is considered to be final.

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    How to Choose the Right Leadership Theory for You?

    There are a plethora of leadership theories to choose from to improve one's leadership skills. Even though some theories believe that leaders are born and not made, it is still beneficial to implement the perfect leadership theory suited for your future. To choose the right leadership style for you, find the spectrum of leadership you want to concentrate on, whether it is style-oriented or task-oriented, or transactional. From this meticulous research, you can gain a keen insight into which leadership theory is suitable for you and how you can implement that into practice.

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    Impact of Good Leadership on a Project

    Good leadership determines how the project is going to advance and whether it is going to achieve success or not. Understanding leadership helps the work progress quickly and determines its growth. Here are some advantages and impacts of good leadership that determine the pace of work:

    1. Work Moves Forward Quickly

    When there is a presence of active leadership, the work moves forward at a quicker pace and makes a decision right on time. Punctuality in making decisions is what determines the nature of the project.

    2. Project has a Clear Direction

    A leader should always make sure that the team understands the project with utmost proficiency and hence no conflict arises between the two. A clear direction provides a concise decision-making procedure and keeps everyone on track.

    3. Conflict is Resolved Quickly

    The project manager/leader should be looking out for conflict resolution and step into managing the issues before any crisis arises. They should always try to resolve conflicts between them or amongst the team members for the sake of the advancement of the project.

    How to Apply Leadership Theories in the Workplace?

    Leadership theories have influenced today's workplace decision-making processes, and these theories can help you improve your leadership style in your workplace. Let's check how to implement these leadership theories in your work below.

    1. Improve your Strength

    Determine the main characteristics that would make you a better leader. These are some examples of how you might leverage your strengths:

    • Strong-willed leaders are more able to handle challenging circumstances. Focus on your inner power to tackle a task rather than dwelling on the terrible situation. This will also encourage others to follow suit.
    • Decisiveness is a quality that makes some leaders effective. To bring others together, they can pick one action. They are open to learning from their errors, though. Even as a leader, being teachable will help you reach your full potential and open more opportunities for responsibility.

    2. Be Inclusive

    The interaction between managers and the members of their teams is a key component of some situational leadership theories. Recognizing your limitations and utilizing your team's skills will help you be an inclusive leader. You can practice being inclusive at work by encouraging colleagues to voice their thoughts and paying close attention to their knowledge to make better decisions. Being open to other people's opinions can help you become a better leader.

    How to Adopt a Leadership Style?
    Common leadership styles

    Once you have a good grasp of leadership theories and styles, you can lead the team at ease. For that, first, the leader has to identify the leadership styles that have been prescribed above. Then the leader should analyze themselves and align themselves with the appropriate leadership styles. You must identify which leadership style is appropriate to your current leadership scenario. Once you determine these features, you can adapt to a leadership style based on your preference.

    These are one of the major features of adopting a perfect leadership style. If you want to have a keen knowledge of leadership styles and project management, check out the industry agnostic PRINCE2 certification course. You can prepare for the PRINCE2 certification exam as a foundation and practitioner with the help of 6th edition exams. Also, you can learn about PRINCE2 in detail with different project environment scenarios.

    Why is Good Leadership Essential?

    Good leadership is an essential feature of project management. Think about the leaders that have inspired you at your workplace. What were the skills of these leaders that have inspired you? How do you want to adapt to these skills and knowledge in a slightly different way? Leadership theories in project management help shape our work procedure and how we see our team members working with us together in harmony. Here are all the reasons why good leadership plays a pivotal role in any organization.

    • Encourages Action: Good leaders communicate requirements, strategies and plans to get them done on time, resulting in timely delivery and successful results.
    • Contributes Guidance: Guidance to subordinates is essentially what the role of a leader entails. A capable leader must not only lead but support their team towards optimum efficiency.
    • Fuels Collaboration: Under good leadership, team players can communicate their needs and requirements better, leading to better team engagement and a collaborative workspace system.
    • Boosts Confidence: Assisting co-workers with their issues and explaining their roles to them in detail will enable them to perform better at work, leading to better performance and enhanced confidence.
    • Motivates a Friendly Workspace: Management under skilled leadership tends to thrive, both in terms of work and the nature of a workspace.


    Leadership theories play a pivotal role in project management. They help us understand the pace of working in a team. Furthermore, they also help us to point out which leadership theories and styles are perfect for the particular organization being worked in. You can download leadership theories PDF and learn about different leadership skills. If you want to learn about Project Management, check out KnowledgeHut training in Project Management. Taking this course will make it easy for you to learn about the theories of project management in detail.

    Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

    1. How many theories of leadership are there?

    There are more than 12 theories of leadership present. Each is appropriate for every other situation.

    2. How to show leadership in a project?

    To show leadership in a project, the project manager/leader must know about the project. The leader should have proper communication skills along with the flexibility to handle the project with ease.

    3. What leadership skills are needed for a project manager?

    One of the essential skills that are needed by a project manager to handle the projects are flexibility, communication skills, decision-making skills, monitoring, etc.

    4. How can project leadership skills be improved?

    Project leadership styles and skills can be improved by the proper intimation of analyzing the different leadership styles and imposing an effective understanding of those styles by implementing them in real life.


    Kevin D.Davis

    Blog Author

    Kevin D. Davis is a seasoned and results-driven Program/Project Management Professional with a Master's Certificate in Advanced Project Management. With expertise in leading multi-million dollar projects, strategic planning, and sales operations, Kevin excels in maximizing solutions and building business cases. He possesses a deep understanding of methodologies such as PMBOK, Lean Six Sigma, and TQM to achieve business/technology alignment. With over 100 instructional training sessions and extensive experience as a PMP Exam Prep Instructor at KnowledgeHut, Kevin has a proven track record in project management training and consulting. His expertise has helped in driving successful project outcomes and fostering organizational growth.

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