Project leadership

What are the duties of the project leader?

The project leader provides the operational management of the project. He/she is responsible for implementing the project on time and within the given budget and for ensuring that the objectives of the project are achieved. In particular, the project leader executes the following tasks:

  • He/she puts together and manages the project team,
  • structures the project and ensures coordination of any sub-projects,
  • organizes regular occasions for reflection with the project team (e.g. at milestone meetings),
  • plans, monitors and manages events, people, costs and quality,
  • ensures information flow, communication and project documentation,
  • moderates meetings and workshops,
  • assesses the project's economic viability,
  • prepares milestone decisions and discusses important issues and decisions with the steering group and/or with the top management of the institution in charge of the project.

What should be taken into consideration when choosing the project leader?

On the basis of the above-mentioned tasks some of the general requirements for a project leader are: expertise in public health, identification with the values of health promotion, ability to work in a team, assertiveness, frustration tolerance, communication skills, lateral thinking, an activity-oriented and forward-looking approach, economic thinking, self-confidence and self-esteem, the ability to recognize strengths and weaknesses in others and critical auto-evaluation. (see "Suitability criteria for project managers) .

Additionally, a list of the specifically required technical, methodological and social skills of the project leader and of the project staff should be established during the preliminary planning phase. Once a project is approved, the top management of the institution in charge will generally designate the project leader. Ideally the choice is guided by the requirements which have been defined for the particular project and then by determining whether suitable candidates might be found within the institution or whether the post should be advertised (see also "Project Team).

Bibliographical references

  • Kerzner, Harold (2006). Project Management. A systems approach to planning, scheduling, and controlling. Ninth edition. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
  • Heerkens, Gary R. (2007). Project Management. 24 steps to help you master any project. The McGraw-Hill Mighty Manager’s Handbooks. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Why you would disregard these aspects

  • Often projects are managed by the institution's own staff who happen to have the capacity to do so. Or the person who was responsible for the project's design and operational planning claims the project for himself/herself. In such cases, the analysis of required and available skills and qualifications is often neglected.
  • You have not planned sufficient time for establishing detailed job descriptions.
  • When establishing a profile you already have someone in mind with whom you would like to collaborate and you adapt the profile to this person's qualifications and skills.
  • You contact people with whom you enjoy working and not necessarily those who have the required qualifications.

What you have to gain

The quality of all aspects of the project will be improved if the project leader has the necessary competencies and skills and is neither under- nor over-qualified.

What you can actually do

  • Create detailed job descriptions for both the project leader and for the other project staff. Distinguish between required and desirable qualifications and skills.
  • Find out if collaborators from within the institution are available or if you have to look for them elsewhere. Plan sufficient time for the selection process.
  • With the help of the checklist “suitability criteria for project managers check if the person designated for the project leadership has the necessary qualifications and skills. If the person who designed the project also wishes to be the project leader, examine his/her skills and qualifications in exactly the same way as those of other candidates.
  • Choose the project leader first and make sure that he/she participates in the selection of project staff.
  • If any of the required skills are not provided by anyone on the project team, these gaps should be identified and a decision should be taken on how these competencies can be acquired ("Professional resources).

Questions for critical reflection

  • Are the requirements asked of the project leader appropriate for the project in question? Or have the requirements been formulated to fit the profile of a person already designated to take on the leadership?
  • Is it necessary for the project leader to possess all the skills required for the project, or is it enough if certain qualifications are provided by individual project staff?
  • What are the chances of the project leader succeeding in assembling and directing a motivated, committed and competent project team?
  • Is the project leader aware of established methods of constructive conflict management and of ways of creating motivating working conditions for his / her team?