Good Manager and Good Leader in Project Management

In our text, Chapter 10 Leadership: Being and Effective Project Manager states the following section in Managing versus Leading a Project:

In a perfect world, the project manager would simply implement the project plan and the project would be completed. The project manager would work with others to formulate a schedule, organize a project team, keep track of progress, and announce what needs to be done next, and then everyone would charge along. Of course no one lives in a perfect world, and rarely does everything go according to plan. Project participants get testy; they fail to complement each other; other departments are unable to fulfill their commitments; technical glitches arise; work takes longer than expected. The project manager’s job is to get the project back on track. A manager expedites certain activities; figures out ways to solve technical problems; serves as peacemaker when tensions rise; and makes appropriate tradeoffs among time, cost, and scope of the project. However, project managers do more than put out fires and keep the project on track. They also innovate and adapt to ever-changing circumstances. They often have to deviate from what was planned and introduce significant changes in the project scope and schedule to respond to unforeseen threats or opportunities.


I have lead and participated in my fair share of failed projects, because as stated in the text we do not live in a perfect world. I think the biggest reason my failed projects failed was due to lack of engagement and commitment in the team. When the business needs to get something done, it gets done. We have our fair share of people who can rally the team when needed, but all the small “like to haves” or “better than” projects seem to fail because people are not interested in continuous improvement when they have to struggle to keep their heads above water when trying to complete their own work let alone a project. That is why this section resonated with me, “the project manager has to innovate and adapt to ever-changing circumstances”. This type of flexibility is critical in any and all projects. I know that in my world in healthcare we have more failures than we have success, but we keep persisting because those successes are worth all the effort to get. One common thread in my successful projects that I found to be most enjoyable to participate in, was that I had a good manager and a good leader. The text describes the difference in a leader and manager in the project as, “Good management brings about order and stability by formulating plans and objectives, designing structures and procedures, monitoring results against plans, and taking corrective action when necessary. Leadership involves recognizing and articulating the need to significantly alter the direction and operation of the project, aligning people to the new direction, and motivating them to work together to overcome hurdles produced by the change and to realize new objectives.”


Have you ever participated in a project with a great leader and a great manager? Or on the other hand, have you ever participated in a project with a poor leader and a poor manager? What were the results?

17 thoughts on “Good Manager and Good Leader in Project Management

  1. Great post Fareed. I’ve been in both situations with great managers, and terrible ones.
    One of the common denominators I’ve seen in terrible managers is that they tend to treat everyone in exactly the same manner. The guy I had in mind reminded me of a drill sergeant constantly yelling and barking commands at every subordinate. He left no room for an individual thought and didn’t give anyone on the team breathing room.
    There were two main issues here. First, everyone is not the same. A great manager will get to know their team and use each team member in a way that best complements their skill set. What motivates one employee may actually demotivate the next so it’s important to understand each individual’s personality. Second, even the smartest person on the planet is never correct 100% of the time. By force feeding the team “strategic initiatives” without accepting any feedback you’ll not only alienate your team members but it’s practically guaranteed that your projects will implode.

  2. I too have participated in both situations. But it would seem that more often than not, the projects that I am involved in struggle to find traction. But in all cases of project management, I would attribute most of the successes and failures to the Project Manager. From how I look at it, a project is nothing but a lot of tasks that need to be done; it really could be classified as that simple. However, a good project manager will take the time to understand how those tasks fit together, what are the best (or available) resources are for each to do thing, and the best order to accomplish these items in. In essence, the PM minds the chaos that would otherwise ensue if all participants were trying to accomplish a major undertaking individually.

    Failures, many times but not always, can be linked to these items above not being properly handled. Of course there are times when the right people are not involved or mistakes are made. But how the PM directs the show when these events occur is crucial to the overall success of the project. I am, of course, over simplifying this, but I still contend that success and failure starts with how well the PM really understands the project, its tasks and the people needed to make it all work.

  3. I loved your post and the question you pose… interestingly, I have worked with some great leaders and co-leaders, and also with some not-so-great ones, but the individual that comes to mind is the person who was outstanding and inspiring to lead with.

    On my last client project, I worked alongside an exceptional manager and leader who truly set (and re-set what seemed like millions of times) the direction of the program as we encountered hurdle after hurdle over the 2+ years on the project. He acted as a manager, organizing us when needed, and acted like a leader when the team lost focus on the right endpoint. He re-directed the group when the client needs and internal business needs changed mid-project, and helped settle frustrations and doubts many project team members were having.

    In short, the type of manager and leader who actually makes the project feel pleasant for the project team is so difficult to run across that when you see it, it’s inspiring.

  4. Thanks for the post, Fareed. It seems I find that most of the projects I’m involved with has either a great leader and a bad manager or vice versa. The result of the former is great projects getting 90% completed. The result of the latter is lack of enthusiasm on the project team and lack of enthusiasm from the users. I think it is a rare treat to find a project manager that can align and motivate as well as set tasks and timelines. In the absence of one of this great leader/manager, perhaps a different project management organization may be suitable.

  5. Great post Fareed, I really enjoyed this section in chapter 10 too. I have worked under both strong and poor management. The successful projects have succeeded through good leadership; with managers that not only instruct, but engage. A good manager should be available to help, but contribute by guiding and teaching, not just dictating. Or even worse, micromanaging so much that it doesn’t allow the staff any autonomy and cripples the team from learning anythng for themselves. Worst off, there are some managers that want nothing to do with a particular project and simply gives the orders or assigns the responsibilities and is completely hands off until the finish product. These kind of managers will tend to leave you in the dark, but will be the first to throw you under the bus for their failed results.

    In an earlier post, someone made the comparison that a good project manager is like a coach. I think that post applies very well here. A good manager becomes a good leader when he/she can motivate, give credit, and also take blame on behalf of his team. A great manager will say “let’s go” and not just “go”.

  6. I have dealt with managers and bosses that had varying approaches to leading their team. I think your point Damion, of a good manager not treating everyone the same is an interesting point because although rewarding others for excelling and leaving others to feel overlooked can also be an end result of that. I do like the analogy of a manager being like a coach, as that is truly what they are. The reason they are in a managerial role is because they know what they are doing. Whatever task they are asking of you they have done and mastered themselves. The focus of a good manager should be to motivate and transfer as much of their knowledge to the staff to facilitate a quality output.

  7. This post made me think about all the jobs that I have been a part of through my career at DePAul. I have seen both sides of a manager whether good or bad. In my opinion, a manager who could work under pressure and makes sure what ever decision he/she takes is taken with the consent of their team members or sub ordinates is likely to succeed and nurture the atmosphere of acceptance and helpfulness in the work space.
    But on the other hand, if the manager cannot handle the pressure and is not proactive and does not come up with ways to keep the staff or team members motivated then the project is most likely to fail.

    I feel that it is the manager’s responsibility to be the driver of the group because he is the lead figure and the workers follow him. It would be wrong to assume that the workers have the similar responsibilities as the project manager when it comes to big projects. If the manager does not show that he is capable enough then the workers are bound to get out of track.

  8. Great post, Fareed. I’ve had experiences with some really great leaders and others that were not so great. I think that the constant theme amongst great project leaders is their ability to manage and to have outstanding leadership skills that they can apply. Like you stated above, it is incredibly important to point out that these two (management and leadership) are not interchangeable and are both very crucial in having successful project results. I really hate to bring up sports example but I feel like this particular occasion calls for it. A quarterback is largely considered the game “manager” because he constantly has the ball in his hands and is therefore given the task to execute the game plan as strategized. It is the quarterbacks duty to recognize when things are not going as well as expected and either call an audible or go on to alter the game plan (we can call this leadership) so that they don’t lose the game.

  9. Fareed, this post was really good, and like many comments above made me think about past experiences at DePaul. As you mentioned, ‘rarely things go as planned,’ which is a tremendous opportunity for a manager/leader to identify the best course of action going forward from there. One of the difficult tasks at DePaul (school in general) and projects is that all individuals do not always have the same motivations; therefore, it can be difficult to hold individuals accountable as is the case in a work environment. However, these circumstances can be really great opportunities for individuals to learn techniques and skills on dealing with difficult situations to be better prepared in the future.

    I think no matter where you go you will eventually work with both good and bad managers/leaders, but no matter what, each situation provides the opportunity to learn something new. From the situations I’ve been in, whether good or bad, I have always tried to take something away from to add to my knowledge base.

  10. This is a very thoughtful post and I can relate to this because I have participated in projects with great leaders but also with poor leaders. What made a difference in the project with the strong leader/manager was that the leader possessed certain skills that allowed him to model the way and inspire the group to act together towards the common goal. The leader made you feel important and part of the whole success and there was clear communication. Even though almost everyone experiences a situation where they have to deal with a poor leader/ manager or they themselves do not succeed in the leadership role, the best way is to learn and reflect on past experiences and become a better leader. This was a great post that made me think back to a leadership class I took at DePaul University. I would recommend reading the Leadership Challenge by Kouzes and Posner, to anyone who wants to improve their leadership skills.

  11. This was a great post. To succeed I agree that it is important to adapt to unexpected changing circumstances. It is important for a manager to be capable of moving away from your plan and introducing new ideas. Many teams fail because they simply don’t care, there is a lack of engagement. It’s all about one’s attitude, in order to succeed you have to maintain a positive attitude. Good management keeps everything structured and good leaders motivate others to work as a team to overcome obstacles that may occur along the way. Yes, in my MIS 140 class I had a group project where a had a great manager who had everything organized, a great attitude, and easily adapted to changes. One of our group members did not contribute his portion of work on time so the manager took action and had another plan set just in case the group member would be late with his work. For great leader I made sure to get the team to meet up,download a phone chat application, get everyone engaged, and to work on the assignment to get it completed.

  12. Fareed, this post makes many valid points on how to succeed in completing a project. I have been on both sides where I was led by a leader and also leading a team. In both projects, we were able to succeed because we were all motivated. As you said, motivation is a key ingredient for the team to function effectively. I agree it is not a perfect world where every individual completes their own task. The leader must influence their team to complete their task in order to succeed. From experience, I have learned when a leader gets involved with each member of a team, the team members would feel important where it would strive them to effectively complete their task.

  13. Great post Fareed!
    I think we’ve all been in situations that presents both sides of your post. I couldn’t agree more that a good manager should have all the qualities (motivation, adaptable, and a clear communicator) that will lead their team to the goal. The best managers will be able to deal with diversity and changes that occur along the way, since “ one lives in a perfect world, and rarely does everything go according to plan.” On the other hand, a bad manager can be detrimental to a group setting and most likely will not come out with successful results.

  14. Great post!! I work for a catering company, so I will say every time I have to work any event I encounter either a good or a bad manager. I have found that when I work with a manager that I consider not to be the greatest there is always a lack of communication between him and the employees, as well as those managers having a mentality of “I’m right” or “my way or no way.” A bad manager at my job doesn’t really affect employees getting things done, because regardless of the screams and the manager trying to micro-manage, employees know that things have to be done. But it certainly does affect the environment around the employees,the attitudes towards each other, and even towards the clients. On the other hand, when there is a good manager on hand employees actually enjoy doing their work, things get done faster and with good attitude. A good manager doesn’t have to be trying to micro manage you but he gives you a task to complete and he has full confidence that you will get it done, he’s also helpful if you don’t exactly know how to go about the task. And lastly, he cares about his employees.

  15. Like many of the previous comments have said, I have been on both sides of projects succeeding and failing. This reminds me of a summer job I had where another girl and I were working in an actuarial department. Throughout the summer the two of us worked with different members of the actuarial team to complete different tasks. Neither of us had experience working with actuaries and had basic knowledge of the actuarial vocabulary. When we worked with “managers” who gave very basic explanations for what we were supposed to do and were not responsive to our questions, we ended up having to redo the project and wasted time. However, when we worked with the “managers” who were able to explicitly state what we were supposed to do and explained the vocabulary to us, we were able to complete the projects much quicker. As stated above, a good manager is willing to help you succeed.

  16. In my job as a whole, I have been on both sides of being apart of failing and succeeding. I have worked with managers who have failed to complete a project and I have been a manager who has a team that has failed to complete what was assigned. It is always hard to rely on people, but no one can do everything themselves. There are a lot of pieces to the puzzle and if not every person contributes the way they are supposed to the project will not go smoothly.

  17. The thing that makes a fantastic project manager in my opinion is balance. He has to balance between being too involved and micromanaging his subjects. On the other hand he cannot have such an arms length approach as not to to be an effective leader either. The balancing act is what distinguishes a fantastic manager from a mediocre one.

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