Adopting “Servant Leadership” in project management

In a perfect world programme and project managers (PMs) would consider not just managing a project but leading their project team too. Indeed, leading the people rather than over-managing a project can allow the team to deliver the end-product or business change to a higher quality and in a happier and more productive way.

This philosophy underpins the concept of “Servant Leadership”, coined by Robert K. Greenleaf in 1970. It is a set of practices that aims to enrich the lives of individuals, thus building better organisations. A servant leader leads by putting the needs of their team first. They believe that when their team members feel personally and professionally fulfilled, they produce higher quality work more efficiently and productively.

In project management this approach can yield significant results, when the necessary attention is given to the team and their needs and is as true for hybrid teams of consultants, contractors and employees as entirely in-house project teams. People are people after all.

So, what are the main characteristics of “Servant Leadership” and how they can be adopted in a projects environment management?

  • Commitment to professional development. 

Servant leaders want to get the job done and they also want to create the next generation of leaders. They do this through by providing their team with opportunities to grow and develop. Improving individuals contribute to an improving business.

  • Collaboration and encouraging collaboration in others. 

Servant leaders believe a well-chosen team will have constructive opinions and so all should be encouraged to contribute. The team should be more than the sum of its parts.

  • Motivating the team.

Servant leaders engage the team in a positive and optimistic way. They want the team to feel empowered to better themselves, and motivated to contribute ideas and concepts to the benefit of the project.

  • Caring about their team on a personal level.

Servant leaders understand a team is a group of individuals not just homogeneous employees, each one with different needs, strengths and experience. They tailor their approach to each team member accordingly. A team that is happy and fulfilled in their personal lives contribute to their success in their professional life. Because of this, servant leaders make it a priority to show their team members they care about them personally and try to help them with personal issues when able and appropriate.

  • Excellent communication skills.

Transparency, active listening and empathy are all important factors to “Servant Leadership”. These leadership traits help a project manager understand the views and opinions of your team and to lead them in a way that shows their opinions are important. Providing your team members with the same context and information available to the PM also shows them you trust and respect them.

Programme and project managers who want ever better results should seriously consider managing their teams as well as their projects with a focus on the individual.

This blog was written by Ben Howell, r10’s Associate.