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Internet Survey Results

Why Project Leaders Succeed: Project Leader Skills Survey Results

Fred Friend, CCM Associate

(For individual usage only, not to be used in team building, organizational publications or training programs without written permission)

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Of the 82 respondents, 55 were Project Leaders and 27 were Managers Of Projects Leaders. The Project Leaders were relatively junior, with 65% having 5 years or less experience, and we assume technically educated since 45% lead IT or Consulting Engagement Projects. Contrast this with the Managers of Projects Leaders, 59% had at least 5 years and more than 10 years experience. Given these demographics, a relatively junior group of project leaders talking about their needs and the perspective of a seasoned group of their managers who have undoubtedly coached and mentored many project leaders, the following are even more compelling:

Skills: 90% of the respondents rated "most project leaders" technical skills as average or good and 75% rated interpersonal skills as average or poor. Technical competence and skills are not the issue, what is?
Key interpersonal skills: 85% or greater of the respondents said the following were the critical skills needed to be a successful project leader:

Listens to others

ask questions, to stimulate thinking

clarify roles, expectations

establish trust

recognize individual accomplishments

develop a sense of teamwork


Top four people skills for project leader success:

Define & communicate goals/sub goals

Clarify roles, expectations

Listen to others

Establish trust.


Training for the Project Manger role: 1/3 had no formal training,

1/3 had some related workshops,

and only 1/3 had formal training by college degree or PMI or equivalent formal programs.


Here’s the picture, a great need for help with little or no training being provided. Our guess is that organizations assumed that technical competence and skills would generalize to the skills needed to be a Project Leader. Unfortunately, the organization probably lost a good technical resource and gained a struggling Project Leader. Here’s the things they don’t teach you in college:


Greatest people challenges: Dealing with lack of commitment, lessened sense of mission, alignment of everyone’s understanding and efforts, and accountability by project team members.


Top four people skills for project members:

Listen to others

Ask questions to clarify

Develop a sense of teamwork

Establish trust.


Top three things Managers-of-Project Leader can do more of:

Support, be attentive, listen, protect, mentor, recognize, reward.

Communicate, work closely, give clear goals, ask question, listen, provide feedback.

Delegate and allow, clear goals, allow trial and error, protect.


Recommendations: Training, training and more training! The preponderance of responses from relatively new project leaders should underline the crying need for help in:

Interpersonal skills: coaching, team building, establishing trust, and gaining commitment without the use of formal authority.

Communications skills: with team members (listening, asking questions), peers and mangers as well as presentation skills.

Project planning/manage process skills: Clarifying roles and expectations, defining goals/sub goals, recognition of accomplishments.


Here are the detailed responses that lead to these conclusions and recommendations. We welcome your comments on our conclusions and additional conclusions and recommendations you would draw from this data.

1.  Title: 33% of you were Managers-of-Projects

67% of you were Project Leaders


2. Years of Experience: Project Leaders Managers-of-Projects
23% had less than 1 year experience

42% had 1 - 5 years

19% had 5 - 10 years

17% had more than 10 years

13% had less than 1 year experience

25% had 1 - 5 years

21% had 5 - 10 years

38% had more than 10 years


3. General Product Types 26% were from Information Technology

19% were from Consulting Engagements

8% were from Marketing Product Launch

7% were from Product R&D

39% were from All Others (Advertising, Aerospace, Construction Management, Education, Finance, etc.)

4.  Three Greatest People Challenges

By asking the "If only people would . . ." questions we get data that let's us draw conclusions about the "people issues" project leaders need to address to be more effective. In general they said, "If only people would -

take more initiative / responsibility"

focus on the end"

have better skills"

manager themselves better"

Some particular conclusions we drew from the "Three Greatest People Challenges" responses were:
A. In a project (team) environment, there may often be a lessened individual sense of mission, ownership, commitment, accountability, motivation and responsibility. Dealing with that was the most frequently mentioned "people issue".
B. It is not a primary role of the project leader to be an omnipotent subject matter expert; their primary expertise is project planning & management processes - methodologies and people management (group dynamics, teambuilding, coaching, communicating).
C. Alignment is a common concern for project leaders regardless of who they were thinking about (team members, managers, outsiders, other departments, etc.)
D. Project leaders need to facilitate communication within the team and communicate with others outside the team
E. A major role/responsibility of the project leader is to facilitate teamwork and gain synergy; in most cases it does not occur naturally when individuals are marshaled from various backgrounds.
F. The general categories of concerns they mentioned were mirrored in the skills they think are important
G. There are established processes and bodies of knowledge that will improve project results by investing time and money in formal training (OJT and trial-and-error are expensive alternatives)

5.  Key Inter-personal Skills for Project Leader

Here are the interpersonal skills you said were needed to be successful project leaders - listed by the percent-of-respondents-who-checked-this-skill.

89% listens to others
89% ask questions, to stimulate thinking
85% clarify roles, expectations
85% establish trust
85% recognize individual accomplishments
85% develop a sense of teamwork
83% define & communicate goals/ sub-goals
82% motivate others
81% gain commitment
79% get others to feel accountable
79% facilitate group problem solving
78% help others develop
76% communicate with upper management
76% get commitments to actions from others
74% follow up, be persistent
74% value diversity
74% facilitate change
72% get others input
72% give productive feedback
71% deal productively with resistance
71% manage disagreements
71% provide direction
69% envision and explain outcomes
68% acknowledge others concerns
67% ask questions to clarify
65% influence others
64% make effective presentations
63% reassure others
61% defuse defensiveness
58% define & communicate needed actions
3% other

6. Top people skills most important for your success

Based on order of occurrence, the top 10 critical people skills for project leaders are:
Define & communicate goals/ sub-goals

Clarify roles, expectations

Listens to others

Establish trust

Develop a sense of teamwork

Motivate others

Gain commitment

Follow-up, be persistent

Communicate with upper management

Ask questions. to stimulate thinking

7.  Top 10 People skills You Recommended for Project Staff Members

Listen to others

Ask questions to clarify

Develop a sense of teamwork

Establish trust

Clarify roles, expectations

Follow-up, be persistent

Define & communicate needed actions

Define & communicate goals / sub-goals

Value diversity

Ask questions to stimulate thinking

8.  What can Managers-of-Project-Leaders do to help

General summary of common themes in the comments are:

Support; be attentive, listen, protect, mentor, recognize, reward, etc.

Communicate; work closely, give clear goals, ask questions, listen, provide feedback, etc.

Delegate and allow; clear goals, allow trial and error, protect, etc.

Have realistic expectations; be clear, provide resources, protect, communicate, etc.

Resolve barriers, conflicts, politics, etc.

Set framework, insist on use of project methodologies

9.  What concerns / issues do you have with outsiders/contractors

General summary of common themes in the comments are:
They need a better understanding of our business

Alignment of agendas, interests, goals, efforts

Living up to their commitments

10.  What concerns / issues do you have with others in your organization

General summary of common themes in the comments are:
Alignment of agendas, interests, goals, efforts

Eliminating "we versus them", competition, individualism, etc.

Appreciating the value of the project to the company / them

Living up to their commitments

11. How would you weight the importance of interpersonal skills versus technical knowledge skills

52% rated people skills more important (52%)

17% rated people skills somewhat more important (69%)

28% rated people skills equally important (97%)

3% rated people skills important, but not equal to (100%)

0% rated people skills not as important

Average rating was 4.2 on a 5 (high) scale

12. Rate most project leaders on their technical skills

9% rated them Very good ( 9%)

39% rated them Good (48%)

42% rated them Average (90%) i.e. 90% rated their technical skills as average or above

10% rated them Poor (100%)

0% rated them Very Poor

Average rating was 3.5 on a 5 (high) scale

13. Rate most project leaders on their interpersonal skills

6% rated them Very good ( 6%)

19% rated them Good (25%) i.e. 75% rated their people skills as average or below

41% rated them Average (66%)

33% rated them Poor (99%)

1% rated them Very Poor (100%)

Average rating was 2.9 on a 5 (high) scale

14. What training have you received to specifically prepare you as project leader

16% said NONE

17% said OJT, Experience, Self-Study Books/Tapes, Mentoring/Coaching, Observing Others

36% said Related Workshops (negotiations, conflict resolution, time management, communications, teambuilding, facilitating, project planning, estimating, scheduling, contracting risk management, etc.)

14% said Formal Education (degree programs)

17% said Formal Project Management programs (PMI, etc.)

15. Other comments, general summary of common themes in the comments are:

Project teams are being used more in companies looking to be leading edge / world class

It is a tough job (coaches don’t play the game, they direct strategy and tactics from the sidelines; but, they can get fired if results are not produced)

Team management is difficult; especially matrix relationships

There are pressures from all sides on the traditional issues; (Time - Quality - Cost)

It takes more than project skills to generate additional benefits; (Synergy - Creativity - Productivity)

Contact Matt Starcevich at
Copyright 2009, Center for Coaching & Mentoring, Inc.