16 3 2018

How to become an authentic project leader

Category: Personal Leadership

Authenticity is a fundamental building block in project leadership. Leadership doesn’t come from emulating others or from blindly following a set of rules. It comes from a deeply personal approach which is rooted in who you are as a person. Being authentic is about truly knowing yourself and what you believe in. It’s about being the person you know in your heart that you have always been destined to be. When you know what you stand for it is much easier to do the right thing in any given situation and to intuitively lead others. That is when you have the potential to be the best version of you.


Authentic project leaders are people with extraordinary integrity who are willing to live by their core values. They have a strong sense of purpose and understand the motives that drive them. This is an insight they have developed through introspection, observation, feedback and years of experience. It is an insight which helps them stay grounded and be guided to make the right decisions. If you don’t understand what the purpose of your leadership is, and what your big“why” is, you will be easily influenced – not just by external events and other people’s opinions – but also by your own emotions and impulses. That means that you will find it harder to act with integrity when the pressure is on, and that your decition-making may suffer as a result.


The true test of authenticity is not what you say you will do, but how you actually behave. This is especially true when you are under pressure, as your true values will emerge when things aren’t going your way. If you aren’t acting with integrity in those situations – by not living up to the values you professed – trust is broken and not easily regained. Being truly authentic means that your actions reflect your core values and that your purpose is aligned to those values. It means that there is harmony between what you think and feel on the one hand and what you say and do on the other.


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When you are comfortable with who you are, and when you are able to use your inner guidance system to inform you about what is right and what is wrong, it will be easier to make the best decisions even if they are not popular. You will instinctively know when to step in and when not to; when to accept something and when to push back. You will have the confidence to stand up for yourself and your project and to protect your team from unnecessary noise. But not least, you will have the desire to be true to your client’s long-term vision (even when your client is not) and to deliver the project’s outcomes and benefits in the most cost-effective and sustainable manner. When you have the courage to rely on your inner guidance system you will be better able to serve your client and to build stronger interpersonal relationships because your actions will be congruent and consistent. People will respect you and want to follow you because you are honest, strong and reliable.


Authentic project leaders have a genuine desire to serve their client and to enable others to make a difference more than they are interested in power, money or prestige for themselves. They have a clear view of what their client’s true needs are and they seek to fulfil them with utmost care and judgment. We could say that authentic project leaders are givers who seek to empower people to contribute to the client’s bigger vision. The opposite are takers who tend to take out as much as they can from their surroundings. They have a big need for feeling significant and fulfill this need by serving themselves. These people often view situations, colleagues and subordinates as a means to gain greater power, money, and recognition.


But the goal of authentic project leaders is not to serve themselves at the expense of others. Rather than being steered by self-enhancement values, they are primarily driven by self-transcendent values linked to growth, contribution and connection. They gain satisfaction from contributing to a cause greater than themselves, from continuously learning, empowering others and from knowing that they are doing the right thing. For that reason they don’t play favourites or engage in dishonest politics as that would undermine trust and collaboration and their core values. They have a genuine and honest approach to their work and attempt to be transparent and open about a situation.When things go well they look out of the window and let others take credit. When things go wrong the look in the mirror and take responsibility.


I would like to finish with some thoughtful words from Camila Batmanghelidjh, the founder of Kids Company. In an interview with the Association for Project Management, she says ‘if you’re a project manager, provide for quality and truth, and success will come on the back of that. If you just go for success on its own, it won’t work. There is an attitude of success being the end goal in everything whereas, actually, I think integrity is the most important thing. If you have integrity the outcome is success. What I would like project managers to be able to do is to face truth, stare it in the eye and then operate by it.’


Our aim at The Project Leadership Institute is to build authentic project leaders. We do that through our practical, insightful and transformational programmes. Using a variety of reflective exercises we invite the delegates to look in the mirror and discover how the events of their life have shaped them as a leader. We also draw upon story telling, NLP, experiential learning, theory and peer learning to help them overcome their leadership challenges. Our diverse set of exercises and a safe environment create insight and awareness and the possibility to expand as authentic leaders.