Transformational Leadership and Project Management

Transformational leadership can be a buzzword, but real leaders can effect meaningful change in an organization. A transformational leader is someone who

  • brings a collaborative approach
  • empowers his team
  • works with them to identify needed change
  • creates a vision to guide that change
  • inspires the team to share that vision, and
  • executes the plan, creates the needed change

transformational leadership

Transformational leaders motivate their team by being a role model. They challenge the team to execute (and outperform), by empowering them to shine and do their best. A transformational leader aligns team members and their tasks to create optimal success conditions. Such leaders don’t make excuses, and aren’t looking to be “right.” They’re looking to better understand the problem, and their part in it, because they’re committed to make the changes necessary to fix it. This starts with themselves! Transformational leadership starts with listening to learn, instead of listening to answer. After that, it takes responsibility. It seizes the initiative. And it doesn’t rest until the problem is solved.

Transformational Leadership vs. Transactional Leadership

Usually, transformational leadership is contrasted with what is called “transactional leadership.” Transactional leadership is what we’d call traditional management. Transactional leaders work within existing systems, creating step by step plans to accomplish a goal. They’re looking for uniformity, and simplicity. A transactional leader focuses on his task, and on rigid structure. However, transformational leadership works to change the system itself, while maximizing their team’s abilities.

Transactional leadership is about telling the team what to do, whereas transformational leadership is about selling the team on a vision for a better future.

If you’re reading this and saying, “wow, when you describe transformational leadership this way, it sounds a lot like successful project management,” you’re on to something. 😁

Project Management: Transformational Leadership By Definition

A successful project manager is a leader. 

So much of the frustration in project management comes from being reduced to the “Gantt chart wizard.” Instead of leading, the project manager gets stuck in glorified data entry. When your time is taken up by chasing after team members for task progress updates, so you can change the Gantt chart accordingly, you’re going to be stuck in the transactional leadership paradigm.

Project managers are agents of change. The project exists to bring about some kind of change, after all. Whatever the project, it exists to effect a meaningful change. Either to the company, or for customers, or for the way the world does things. For example, maybe you’re leading the charge to build the new and improved maternity ward in the hospital. Or you’re running the team opening a new retail location for the company. Or you’re managing the team writing a new software application. The goal of the project is to create change, always. In other words, project managers are the ones who change the world – for the better.

Project managers are agents of change, making the world a better place one project at a time.

This is the key kernel of the vision a transformational leader imparts to their team. You’re not working on a job. You’re not just an accountant. You aren’t just the point person for purchasing neonatal healthcare machines. You’re changing the world, for the better. Therefore, step up your game! Buy in! Get excited! This kind of enthusiasm is infectious. Moreover, it changes the way people approach their work. Such a project manager does not need to chase team members for progress reports. Success becomes its own reward for such a team.

change the world

In Conclusion

Project management incorporates the transformational paradigm in its nature. The secret sauce to successful project management is to embrace the transformational aspect of the job. Find the selling point of  the project. Craft your vision for the future. How is this project going to transform the world? Above all, be a leader. Empower your team. Step out of the transactional model. Become the leader a project manager needs to be: the transformational agent of change.