5th Edition PMBOK® Guide—Chapter 9: Leadership Styles on a Project

5th Edition PMBOK® Guide—Chapter 9:  Leadership Styles on a Project

1.  Introduction

Interpersonal skills are considered to be one of the tools that a project manager uses in the process 9.4 Manage Project Team.    These skills comprise leadership, influencing, and decision-making.

I went into some detail in the last post about influencing and decision-making; this post deals with the various leadership styles.   These styles are not spelled out in the 5th Edition PMBOK® Guide itself.    What I’ve done is taken the styles that are listed somewhat randomly in the 7th edition of Rita Mulcahy’s PMP Exam Prep book, and reorganized the list in terms of three basic categories.

2.  Categories of Leadership Styles

The three categories of leadership styles are

  • Top-down:   where  the leadership consists of taking the manager’s vision and essentially using the team members as the means by which this vision is carried out.   As the name implies, it gives the most autonomy to the leader and is the least empowering from the standpoint of the team members; they are the servants of the project manager.
  • Bottom-up:   where the leadership consists of taking the input from the team members and coordinating or integrating it in some fashion in order to carry out the vision of the project.    It gives the most autonomy to team members and the leader is actually the servant of the group, rather than the other way around.
  • Lateral:   this is where leadership consists of having the entire group, including the project manager, get involved in carrying out the vision of the project.    It gives the most autonomy not to the manager or the group, but to the dynamics of the team itself.    In this style, each person in the group is the servant of the other, and yet also has the opportunity to contribute towards the solution.

3.  Leadership Styles

With these three broad categories in mind, let’s take a look at the list of leadership styles that Rita Mulcahy’s book lists seemingly at random and put them into the categories so you can see the thematic similarities between them.




Top-Down Analytical Making the technical decisions for the project which are communicated to the project team.
Autocratic Manager has power to do whatever he or she wants
Bureaucratic Making sure that the project team follows procedures exactly.
Consultative-Autocratic After soliciting input from team members, makes decisions by him- or herself
Directing Telling others what to do.
Driver Constantly giving directions
Bottom-Up Facilitating Coordinating the input of others
Consultative Obtains others’ opinions and acts as the servant for the team
Charismatic Energizing and encouraging team to perform project work.
Laissez-faire Not directly involved in the work of the team, but manages and consults as necessary.
Lateral Coaching Helping others achieve their goals
Consensus Problem solving in a group, and decision-making based on group agreement
Delegating Establishes goals, gives project team sufficient authority to work
Democratic Encourages team participation in the decision-making process.
Influencing Emphasizes teamwork, team building, team decision making.
Supporting Providing assistance along the way

Notice that, although PMI does not officially endorse one style over another, it is probably pretty clear that the top-down, “my way or the highway” type of style is definitely “old school” and a project manager should be trying to develop styles from the other two categories, because the top-down approach requires a certain amount of authority that the project manager may not have access to.

There are certain situations where a top-down approach may make sense.   If the project manager is also a technical expert, more so than any of the team members, then the analytical approach may make sense.   However, this is probably a rare case.    A more common situation in a project where a top-down approach may be required is if an unforeseen risk occurs and rapid action is required:   here the project manager may be forced by virtue of the urgency of the matter to make a decision without going through the more democratic but time-consuming processes of consensus-building.    But this, again, is the exception to the rule, which should be to get members of the project team to be involved in the planning and decision-making process as much as possible so that they buy into the solution, since they were an important part of creating it.

4.  Conclusion

Leadership styles must match the organization, and the personality style of the project manager, not to mention the nature of the project itself.    A more decentralized approach is more difficult than simply barking out orders, but in the long run it will get you more cooperation not just on the current project, but hopefully on future projects that you will given to manage because of the successful outcome of the current one.


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