Project Management

Playing the Right Leadership Role

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Leadership Role

By Peter Tarhanidis

It is not unusual for project leaders to fill a variety of leadership roles over the course of the many unique initiatives we take on.

As I transition from one client, program, employer or team to another, my personal challenge is to quickly work out the best leadership role to play in my new environment. Therefore, I find it helpful to have some knowledge of leadership theory and research.

Leaders must understand the role they fill in relation to staff and management. That typically falls into three categories, as defined by Henry Mintzberg, Cleghorn Professor of Management Studies at the Desautels Faculty of Management of McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada:

Interpersonal: A leader who is either organizing the firm or a department, or acting as an intermediary. He or she is the figurehead, leader or liaison.

Informational: A leader that gathers, communicates and shares information with internal and external stakeholders. He or she is the mentor, disseminator, and spokesman.

Decisional: A leader that governs and has to make decisions, manage conflict and negotiate accords. He or she is the entrepreneur, disturbance handler, resource allocator and negotiator.

During one of my recent transitions, I thought I was a decisional leader, but I was expected to play an informational role. When I acted on information rather than sharing it and gaining consensus toward a common goal, my team was very confused. That’s why it’s so important to know the role you’re expected to fill.

When you start a new effort, how do you determine what role you’re expected to play? How has that contributed to your success?

Posted by Peter Tarhanidis on: March 17, 2017 09:50 AM | Permalink

Comments (16)

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Yes, many side to leadership

Interesting - Sometimes you need to integrate all 3 roles together to reach a happy medium. It also depends on the project circumstances, the team assigned and the tasks to be performed.

Based on the names alone, I always thought I was an "interpersonal" leader. However, after reading the descriptions, I find myself more in the "informational" leadership role. I don't know if I so much as make the determination, but it is determined by the dynamics of the culture I work in and the perspectives of my stakeholders. I can usually figure out my leadership role and authority level after the kick-off meeting and after 1 or 2 meetings with key stakeholders. Knowing my role has certainly helped with my success. I would imagine if there is a disconnect with what a project manager thinks his/her role is vs what your stakeholders think could lead to challenges to project success down the line.

Nice article Peter. Initially, I thought a person would have to fulfill only one of these types at a given time in certain circumstances... but I thought about and read @Rami's comments as well... I definitely can see now.. someone actually having to integrate parts of all three for certain circumstances. Thanks again for sharing.

Especially the decisional role that makes the other 2 roles give their impact.

Excellent I like Leadership Role.

Vincent, Rami, Crystal, Demetrius, Nian and Eduin, thank you for being the first among our peers to comment on this leadership post!

I appreciate your perspectives and sharing your stories it has improved the post significantly!

Best Regards,


It is my experience that most of the time, team members. internal and external stakeholders prefers one to play an "informational" role.
To act as "go between", which one would prefer others to do it.
Nice article. Thanks for sharing.

The project manager does not serve as a superior in a supervisory role, so leadership skills for project managers tend to be collaborative rather than authoritative.

Thanks for sharing Peter.

interesting - thanks for the post

You have covered the basic facets of being a leader ... I hope more on leadership role are coming or you will elaborate on the other factors

It may be determined by the type of organization and its culture. Usually it's expected to play the 3 roles.

so do you think that people not in decisional positions could be leaders ?

Thanks for sharing

You need to discuss with the project sponsor the breadth and depth of your role. That is the key to making your job less difficult.

To answer your question, I work with the project sponsor to fully define the scope of my role within the project. Some projects I may be in one particular role or in other projects, I may hold multiple roles.

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