Aug 3 2023

Project Leader or Manager: What Does Your Team Need?

Project Leadership
6 minutes
Project Leader


In the world of project management, two key figures often take center stage: the project leader and the project manager. While these terms are often used interchangeably, they play quite distinct roles in ensuring project success. Project managers skilfully coordinate tasks and deadlines, while project leaders artistically craft a vision to steer teams toward success. Understanding the delicate balance between project leadership and management is the key to success in the ever-evolving landscape of project delivery. How do these roles intertwine, and what is the delicate balance that leads to successful project delivery? In this article, we explore the roles, responsibilities, and importance of a project leader in steering projects to success. 

What is a Project Leader or Manager and What Do They Do?  

A study by the Project Management Institute found that projects led by effective project leaders are 40% more likely to meet their goals. A project leader is not just a taskmaster; they play a pivotal role in guiding a project from inception to completion. Unlike project managers, who focus on execution and schedules, project leaders inspire their teams with a strategic vision to achieve overarching project goals. They wear multiple hats, managing resources, fostering teamwork, and taking calculated risks to ensure success. 

As Peter Drucker, a renowned management consultant, once said, "Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things." 

The Key Responsibilities of a Project Leader: 

  • Strategic Planning and Visioning - A project leader starts by crafting a clear project vision, outlining the project's objectives, scope, and expected outcomes. This strategic planning sets the foundation for the entire project's journey. 
  • Team Building and Motivation - Project leaders are exceptional team builders. They identify individual strengths, delegate tasks accordingly, and motivate team members to perform at their best. 
  • Risk Management: Risk management is crucial for project success. Around 66% of projects fail due to poor risk management, making it a top priority for project leaders. They proactively assess potential risks and devise contingency plans to mitigate any impacts. 
  • Communication and Stakeholder Management - Effective communication is the cornerstone of a successful project. Project leaders excel at conveying ideas, updates, and progress to stakeholders. They keep all stakeholders informed and engaged throughout the project lifecycle. 
  • Resource Management - Managing resources efficiently is vital for staying on budget and schedule. Project leaders ensure that the right resources are allocated at the right time to maintain smooth project execution. 
  • Decision-Making - Project leaders possess strong decision-making skills. They navigate through complexities and make timely, informed decisions to keep the project moving forward. 

The Crucial Role of Project Leaders in Risk Management 

Risk management is a fundamental aspect of any project's success. 60% of project managers feel they lack the right project office tools. This is why leveraging project management software is essential to preventing project failures. 

The Project Management Institute's (PMI) 2021 Pulse of the Profession report shared by Runn emphasizes the significance of effective risk management. While 34% of projects were canceled or significantly delayed due to risks, 50% experienced at least one major risk event. Despite these alarming statistics, 70% of project managers admit to not having enough time to handle risks. 

Project leaders, on the other hand, embrace risk management as an integral part of their role. They proactively assess potential risks, develop contingency plans, and keep a close eye on risk triggers. Their ability to navigate through uncertainties ensures that projects stay on track. 

Project Leader

Project Leader or Manager: Striking a Balance  

The project leader's role might seem like that of a project manager, but the distinction lies in their approach and focus. Project managers excel at organizing tasks, setting timelines, and ensuring deliverables are met within deadlines. 
In contrast, project leaders lead from the front, guiding their teams with an inspiring vision and a clear sense of purpose. While project managers focus on adhering to budgets and schedules, project leaders prioritize strategic planning, stakeholder management, and nurturing team dynamics. 

"Leadership is not about being in charge. It is about taking care of those in your charge."

- Simon Sinek, Motivational Speaker

A successful project requires a harmonious combination of both roles. The project leader provides strategic direction and inspiration, while the project manager ensures efficient execution and timely delivery. 

The Ideal Project Leader: Qualities and Traits  

A project leader's role is demanding, requiring a unique blend of traits and qualities. Some essential attributes include: 

  • Visionary Thinking - Project leaders must envision the project's path to success and communicate it effectively to the team. 
  • Strong Communication - Clear and concise communication fosters collaboration and trust within the team and with stakeholders. 
  • Adaptability - Projects often encounter unforeseen challenges, and a leader must be adaptable to navigate through uncertainty. 
  • Emotional Intelligence - Understanding and managing emotions, both of oneself and team members, is crucial for fostering a positive work environment. 
  • Decisiveness - Project leaders must make tough decisions swiftly and confidently to keep the project on track. 
  • Empowerment - Empowering team members to take ownership of their tasks encourages innovation and accountability. 
  • Resilience - Challenges and setbacks are inevitable, and a resilient leader can motivate the team to overcome them. 

Beyond Task Execution: The Strategic Impact of Project Leaders  

The role of a project leader is indispensable to achieving project success. Unlike project managers, who focus on executing tasks, project leaders bring strategic vision, risk management acumen, and team-building prowess to the table. They thrive in fostering collaboration, navigating uncertainties, and motivating teams to excel. 
As the PMI's Pulse of the Profession report highlights, effective risk management is crucial, with a staggering number of projects facing delays and cancellations due to poor risk handling. A project leader's proactive approach to identifying and mitigating risks can spell the difference between project success and failure
A harmonious collaboration between project leaders and project managers ensures that projects are well-planned, efficiently executed, and guided by a visionary spirit. So, when it comes to building a successful project team, it is not a question of whether you need a project leader or manager but rather understanding what your team needs. 

How Does TrueProject's Innovative Approach and Predictive Intelligence Drive Efficiency  

TrueProject is a management control solution that offers customizable features and user-friendly interfaces to streamline communication, enhance collaboration, and facilitate data-driven decision-making. The software provides a centralized location for all project-related information, including stakeholder engagement, and offers real-time insights into project progress, performance, and resource allocation. Project leaders can leverage TrueProject's management software to proactively engage with stakeholders, align project priorities with stakeholder expectations, and foster a culture of continuous improvement and adaptability. TrueProject can help project leaders navigate through uncertainties, identify potential risks, develop contingency plans, and keep a close eye on risk triggers, ensuring that projects stay on track. 

More information on TrueProject at
Tom Villani
About the Author:
Serving as the CEO at TrueProject, Tom Villani plays a major role in shaping the company's strategic direction, driving growth, and fostering a culture of innovation. Prior to his role at TrueProject, Tom worked as the Senior Vice President, Digital Innovation of CAI, Vice President of Global Alliances and Partners at Hitachi Vantara, and key senior executive roles with Information Builders, MicroStrategy and AT&T. Tom also serves in advisory board capacities in the areas of Big Data and IoT.