Leveraging Expertise


What Every Project Manager Really Needs to Know about Leadership

By Laszlo A. Retfalvi, P.Eng., PMP, PMI-RMP

Principal – Retfalvi and Associates

Ontario, Canada


In today’s environment with pressures for organizational efficiency, business value and growth, costs constraints, increased profit, and enhanced transparency and accountability, organizations must not only address the proper management of projects, but also the leadership of projects in order to succeed. Leadership competence is not an optional project management skill, but a key part of being a successful and respected Project Manager.

As reported by PMI®’s Project Management Talent Gap Report, between 2010 and 2020, 15.7 million new project management roles will be created globally across seven project-intensive industries. If organizations fail to equip Project Managers with the skillsets required to fill future project management roles, significant initiatives will be at risk.

In order to ensure this occurs, Project Managers and project management practitioners must clearly understand that it takes true project management leadership to successfully drive today’s aggressive and complex projects. Project management leadership combines select project management and leadership attributes with a risk-smart attitude and accountability-based behavior to achieve professional and personal success.

The goal of this paper is to build on PMI®’s Talent Triangle™ initiative and review the Project Management Leadership Model© to help Project Managers understand, assess, and strengthen needed leadership skills to meet today’s project challenges and industry expectations.


One would think that with the abundance of project management training and the proliferation of various project management certifications, we would see a corresponding increase in project success. This does not appear to be the case. Almost every time we pick up a magazine or receive an e-mail, an organization or individual is promoting some type of training—different types of vendors promising mastery of a topic in a few short days. All these promotions, referred to by the author as silver bullets, promise to help individuals become better Project Managers.

Experience has shown that many Project Managers have not developed the right mix of skills and behaviours to be effective and successful. It almost seems that the technology and tools that we use today, such as e-mail or social media, are considered more important than the actual soft skills that Project Managers so dearly need.

In a way, these powerful tools cause us to skip or ignore the basics. As a result, our risk awareness suffers as we place our ability to listen effectively on the back burner. This lack of understanding of our current situation results in a significant lack of accountability. The end result is that we would rather focus on what is easy, not what is important.

What Has Happened?

We would all agree that most projects have undergone a drastic change over the last 10 to 15 years, or, in fact, even before that. There is probably no better example of this than the phenomenal growth of Information Technology (IT) projects and initiatives. In the past, IT was merely an option for our projects. But in today’s world, e-mail, as an example, is no longer an optional tool. It has become the core of just about any activity or project that we do. The IT industry has changed everything, and those who don’t embrace it are simply left behind.

In today’s competitive and fast-paced environment, Project Managers in all business sectors and project management roles face many challenges in successfully delivering the best product, project solution, or service.

These challenges include such things as:

1)  Tighter budgets which, because of increased customer expectations and all these new software tools, tend to be much more heavily monitored and scrutinized.

2)  Much shorter implementation schedules on traditional projects than ever before. For example, an IT installation and training project may now take only two months to complete. The project may be started and finished even before it is properly set up in the organization’s financial reporting system.

3)  Global teams with varying and, at times, conflicting cultures and practices. With global teams comes the required management of those teams. Many do not realize the burden this places on a Project Manager.

4)  Countless tools and software applications, each promising to be the silver bullet that will help make the management of our projects easier. Although these tools can be beneficial, Project Managers need to consider them very carefully and determine which ones they truly need. Tools do not replace leadership.

5)  A project’s impact on end users. For example, a small software update of a security feature in a large, global organization may impact thousands of users.

6)  Daily flood of e-mails and instant communications in which everybody considers their message to be the most important and expects an immediate response.

7)  Instantaneous reports showing progress against plan. What previously took weeks of effort compiling documents can now be done in, literally, a few hours or less.

When you pull all these factors together, Project Managers now also face the serious challenge of effectively implementing time management for their daily activities.

Clearly, things have changed significantly. Project management has moved from the old-fashioned paper and charts pinned up on the wall to instantaneous communications, agile methodologies, Scrum Masters, sophisticated software-based decision tools, and cloud-based computing.

There has been a shift. As a result of this shift, the “Art” of being a Project Manager is slowly being lost.


To read entire paper, click here

Editor’s note: Second Editions are previously published papers that have continued relevance in today’s project management world, or which were originally published in conference proceedings or in a language other than English. Original publication acknowledged; authors retain copyright. This paper was originally presented at the 10th Annual UT Dallas Project Management Symposium in August 2016. It is republished here with permission of the authors and conference organizers. 


About the Author

Laszlo A. Retfalvi P.Eng. PMP PMI-RMP

Retfalvi and Associates
Ontario, Canada



Laszlo Retfalvi
is currently Principal of Retfalvi and Associates. Laszlo is past Vice-President of the Program and Risk Management Office (PRMO) at Allen Vanguard (now Allen Vanguard Corporation and Med-Eng). Previously, Laszlo held roles with General Dynamics, Irving Corporation, and SED Systems. Laszlo is also an instructor at University of California Irvine Extension Department of Business Management.

A seasoned 30 year veteran of engineering, project management and business in private and public sectors, Laszlo is author of The Power of Project Management Leadership: Your Guide on How to Achieve Outstanding Results (CS Publishing March 2014). Further information may be found at PMI Marketplace.

A leader focused on accountability, leadership, and business success, Laszlo is also a recipient of the 2013 UCI Extension Distinguished Instructor Award. Laszlo has been happily married to Lisa for over 30 years and they have two wonderful sons, Andrew and Alexander.

Laszlo may be reached at [email protected]