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7 Most Important Leadership Behaviours for Project Managers

How female project managers leadWhile I was researching my book, [amazon text=Customer-Centric Project Management&asin=1409443124?], I came across a piece of research in the Project Management Journal about women’s leadership skills. ‘Project Management Leadership Behaviours and Frequency of Use by Female Project Managers’ by Charlotte Neuhauser, PMP, looks at what women think are the most important leadership characteristics and then whether or not they use them.

Most important leadership behaviours for project managers

The important behaviour types for project managers are (from most important to least important):

  • Influence
  • Inspirational motivation
  • Intellectual stimulation
  • Managerial skills
  • Individualised consideration (treating project team members as individuals, not ‘resources’)
  • Attributed charisma
  • Contingent reward (i.e. clarifying goals and benefits for project team members)

These apply to both male and female project managers.

The study found that the more important women felt the behaviour was, the less frequently they said they displayed it. Looking at the mean response scores, no behaviour was used ‘Almost Always’. Either the women in the study really aren’t that good at project management or they were judging themselves very harshly.

Most used behaviour by female project managers

The study broke down these behaviour types and assessed the most and least used actions by female project managers. The 5 most commonly seen behaviours were:

  1. Recommends promotions for exceptional performance
  2. Recommends pay increases or bonuses for exceptional performance
  3. Delegates authority for decisions to team members
  4. Gets ideas accepted by superiors
  5. People are proud to be associated with them

The 5 things women did most infrequently were:

  1. Earns respect of others through demonstrating competence by personal task performance
  2. Inspires others by setting an example of courage, dedication and self-sacrifice
  3. Uses time efficiently
  4. Negotiates with colleagues, suppliers and clients (note that this is just about any negotiating, not negotiating effectively)
  5. Offers encouragement, advice and assistance when team members need help

Seriously, who are these women? They are happy to delegate, but not to offer help to their team. Their supervisors say their ideas are great, but they don’t negotiate. People are happy to work with them but they are disorganised time wasters who don’t complete their own tasks competently.

Was there ever a better argument for knowing your own strengths and weaknesses and being honest about your capabilities? This is Imposter Syndrome in action.

The researcher draws some parallels to other studies but does not comment on the disparities in the results. They are, after all, perceptions. I can perceive that I, or other women, are no good at driving, but it doesn’t make it factually true. (Actually, in my case, it does.)

After reading the research, I strongly believe that the 61 women surveyed were judging themselves too harshly. A whopping 75% of them agreed that women think women are weaker project managers than men! If we don’t believe in ourselves, who will?

Next week I’ll be writing about the final part of the research, where women were asked to comment on how they thought they were perceived by men. Trust me, it’s enlightening!

Read the research: Neuhauser, C. 2007. Project Management Leadership Behaviours and Frequency of Use by Female Project Managers in Project Management Journal, 38(1), pp21-31.

These are the 7 leadership skills for #projectmanagement

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About Elizabeth Harrin

Elizabeth HarrinElizabeth Harrin FAPM is a professional project manager and award-winning blogger behind A Girl's Guide To Project Management. She's passionate about demystifying project management and making tools and techniques work in the real world. She's also the author of several books including the PMI bestseller, Collaboration Tools for Project Managers.
Elizabeth lives in the UK with her family. She uses her organisation and project management skills at home, and also to help other bloggers at Totally Organised Blogging.


  1. Linky says

    1 May, 2012 at 4:30 am

    I happen to think women project managers are better and I’m saying that from experience of working with them. Women tend to take a more supportive and facilitative role instead of actively leading.
    Good points thanks for sharing.

    • Elizabeth says

      3 May, 2012 at 4:32 pm

      I think this speaks to the point raised by Jane – it’s unhelpful to categorise “men” and “women” as broad groups but unfortunately that is how academic research is done. It wouldn’t be possible, practical or useful to carry out studies that say “Fred is good at this, Mary is good at that.” I’m glad you have had a good experience of working with female project managers, but I have to add that I have also worked with some excellent male project managers!


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