Five Ways to Lead a Project by Example

As a project leader, you want your project team to share your values.

You’d like your team members to do the work as you would, care as much about the deliverable as you do and have the same commitment.

These things won’t always be possible.  You can’t clone yourself and play every role on the project.

However, there are several foundational areas where you can set a positive tone for your team.  You may also have to coach the team on applying them and living up to your standards, but first and foremost, they’ll take their cue from your actions.

  • Teamwork
  • Quality
  • Attitude
  • Communication
  • Respect for others

Here are five ways to lead your project by example:


Teamwork is team members taking appropriate ownership of tasks or objectives, following through on commitments, cooperating with each other for mutual support and having a shared belief in the project objective.  Maybe your team won’t always consciously observe your positive reinforcement of these behaviors, but they will certainly see its absence!  When you duck responsibilities, toss hand grenades over the wall, and bad-mouth the project, they’ll see it and figure that’s it okay for them to do, too.


Quality as a habit is about establishing an expectation of quality, along with standard, expected activities to ensure quality.  Peer reviews of code, deliverables, or presentations can all help build quality as a habit.  You set the bar on the project with these activities; help the team establish pride in the quality of their work, and they’ll drive it as a project habit as well as a personal one.


Attitude is the tone and energy used in participating in the project.  If you use a negative or defeatist tone, focusing on bad luck or bad circumstances, others around you will pick that up and echo it.  If you use a positive tone, reinforcing it with praise and celebration of victories, people will pick that up instead.


Communication is the expectations of project communications.  Can anyone speak to anyone on the project, or are there protected channels?  Are there any topics off-limits?  What respect is given to concerns that are voiced?  If you set arbitrary rules that people feel limits their ability to get things done and concentrate too much control in your hands or ignore questions and issues raised by the team, they’ll shut down on you.

Respect for Others

Respect for others is showing respect for the capabilities and contributions of everyone on the team.  While it has a general meaning, in a project sense you can extend it to the view that everyone on the team plays a role, and everyone has something to offer for the project’s success.  It’s easy to see a hierarchy develop on a project, with a core of individuals getting the attention and the praise.  Building respect depends on your meaningful praise for contributions in every facet of the project.

Building Leadership

For most of these, you show leadership by setting an example with your behavior.  In some cases, you may be able to drive behavior through project practices (such as quality reviews).  Either way, your project team will take the cue on these values from you.

As a project leader, you have a specific challenge in this area.  It’s easy to create a negative tone on your team through your own behavior; it’s much harder to simply whistle a happy tune and have everyone join you. It takes work, reinforcement, and coaching.  Your team has to see that it’s genuine, not delusional, and contributes to project success.  If any of those are missing, people will notice and your modeling of positive behavior will struggle to make a dent.

In the end, it’s easiest to make the case for these project values when everyone can see you sincerely living them yourself.