Project Leadership: Lessons From FedEx

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Categories: Executive, Leadership

The Nine Traits of a Leader: charisma, individual consideration, intellectual stimulation, courage, dependability, flexibility, integrity, judgment, and respect for others

"I just want to be a project manager. I don't want all that responsibility." The room was silent, save a few exasperated sighs. Everyone looked around the room trying to figure out how we would handle the comment. No one addressed it. In fact though, there are many levels of project management maturity and only the highest levels require leadership and there is nothing wrong with this person's desire to wanting to stay out of the fray. In fact, the prominent US certification process—PMI's PMP®—has historically little to do with leadership. PMI is only recently catching up with the rest of us who have been preaching leadership and business for the last couple decades. So where do we learn about leadership and how can we improve our leadership skills?

Tips and Techniques

Leadership cannot be taught nor can you test for it. It is a set of traits we develop that are reflected in our core values and how we relate to others. Studying, learning, and mimicking various techniques are a start, but until they become part of our values and persona and are as natural as breathing, they are only superficial and we fall woefully short of being a leader.

Being a leader is a great aspiration, but requires more effort than that required to attain a simple certification. To understand what necessitates being a leader we can turn to the corporate world. In a Fast Company article by Heath Row, FedEx® specifically calls out nine traits to identify a person's leadership potential—charisma, individual consideration, intellectual stimulation, courage, dependability, flexibility, integrity, judgment, and respect for others. Here, they are paraphrased and grouped into three main categories.

Outward Actions

A leader is a role model for others in everything he or she does. They have charisma to instill faith, respect, and trust. They respect others opinions. Instead of berating, they carefully listen and excel as a coach and advisor. Using these skills, they have developed the ability to get others to think in new ways, identifying and questioning unsupported opinion and, in its place, use evidence and reasoning. This brings a fresh new approach to problem solving in the organization.


Leaders do not give in to popular views or demands and have the courage to withstand resistance against looking at ideas that are out of the mainstream—regardless of the personal cost. They are adaptive and effective in rapidly changing environments, with an ability to discern issues, simultaneously handling a variety of problems, and making course corrections as required.

Internal Responsibilities

Based on a strong sense of mission, leaders are dependable, keeping their commitments and taking responsibility for their actions and their mistakes. A foundation of internal integrity guides them through what is morally and ethically correct. Superior judgment allows a leader to evaluate multiple action plans objectively using logic, analysis, and comparison. They are pragmatic decision makers.

Leadership and Project Management

With all that is entailed in being a leader, it is easy to understand why someone would make the distinction that all they wanted to be was a project manager. Minding the scope, schedule, and budget sounds quiet and peaceful, even mundane. Taking a subordinate, individual contributor role managing team members to someone else's direction, is tranquil in comparison to a leader's responsibilities. One must remember, though, there are two paths in project management—successfully managing the most difficult of projects as a leader, or following a cookbook project management style as a coordinator. The demand will increase for the former, while the latter will be commoditized and relegated to any resource, remote or local. To advance the project management discipline, leadership qualities are essential.

Posted on: November 23, 2015 04:55 PM | Permalink

Comments (18)

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Great post!

Thank you, Rachel.

Just love it, Todd.
I would like to add one more thing to the list of traits found in leaders. They are one field or the other.
I would like to see more posts on this from you.

Cool Todd... Interesting reading...

Leadership cannot be taught but there are some attributes / characteristics that a PM could learn and get into his/her own skills repertoire and use them positively.

Exactly. That is why we need to continually strive to learn and grow. But it takes practice which is hard to do. The best leadership programs build a cohort and span months not days. This provides an accountability structure for the practice.


I have other posts here and on my website you migh find interesting.


Thank you.


Thanks Todd for sending the link.

Great article Todd. You mentioned "Leadership cannot be taught". Leadership is a very, very broad concept and, as you mentioned, does involve certain principles and values to be internalized. From this viewpoint, teaching leadership is difficult if not impossible.

At the same time, Leadership also is about exhibiting specific behaviors. And, right behaviors can be taught. Luckily, then, learning 'Leadership skills' is not an all-or-nothing situation. Everyone can grow as a leader.

It is a good question if anyone can grow to be a leader. As leadership is a continuum and not a state, that is true. In today's business world, however, there is a bar that you need to be able to clear as a leader that I think some people will have a hard time clearing.

Reading between the lines on your note, you might want to replace "exhibit specific behavior" with "live and breathe these" traits. They need to become second nature. I find this the most difficult part of aspiring to being a good leader.


Todd, enjoyed reading your article…
Always leader has to go extra mile in each and every aspect to be on top.

So true. Thank you for you comments.

Doing Project Management without leadership is BORING. Completing a project is like a mission not to be failed. You have an army to take care of and to bring out their best and to put in all efforts to do your best.
Being a coordinator rests with people who; in my opinion; have other better trait and skill set and do not want to come out of their comfort zone. They are leaders in their fields.

A friend/colleague used to ask me to be his PM. Why? because he is a nerd. He is extremely sound at technical work BUT when it comes to controlling costs, forecasting, risk management, he just wants to run away.

I'm of the opinion that one's leadership is reflected (and can be developed) in ones talent and not one's skill.


I know many that would agree with you. Thank you for your comment.


Great article Todd.

As Project Managers, I have heard it said we have "all the responsibility, and no authority". I have learned as a Project "Leader" to build up my influence, and spend it wisely, with the Project Team, to bring out the best in the team, and ultimately the project.

In the end "Authority" does not equal "Leadership", and I see too many people mistakenly equate the two.

Thank You, Erik.

Good article. Thanks for sharing

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