how to inspire your project team members?

Here are a few tips you may wish to consider:

trust the team

It is almost impossible to create a reliable trusting climate without demonstrating every day your confidence in the team, in each of its members and in the capacity of the team to together make this project a success. It is often easier at first encounter not to trust: “trust comes with time…” is the adage. Also, when the first deliverables of a team member are not matching what we expected in terms of content, quality or duration, we may feel like taking back this task that you previously delegated to him.

In our aim to always be on top of things, we may be tempted to request heavy and/or very frequent reporting. We can even lengthen the optimal duration of some tasks for a specific individual because we lack confidence in his/her capabilities… However, even the slightest error in this domain is a killer. Lack of trust will be easily perceived by the interested party and/or his team-mates.

Remember: It takes a lot of time to gain trust and seconds to lose it.

delegate real responsibilities

The following linked topic is delegation. I have witnessed that delegation is even more difficult when the project manager is himself/herself an expert of the domain and capable of executing perfectly the task he delegates. It may also happen that a task appears so critical, may be even crucial, to us that we think we cannot possibly delegate it. However, the leader will start by surrounding himself with good skills, better than his own.

He will attempt to develop the resources under his direct or indirect responsibility by giving them difficult, critical, complex assignments and providing them with the necessary support and coaching to succeed. I have been favored to work with some great leaders and it was always a pleasure to learn and to grow next to them. All had very different styles but they had in common this capacity to trust me. A trust I really did not want to disappoint.

demonstrate loyalty to the project

It is also a fact that we cannot on one hand "bad mouth" the project and on the other hand ask team members to do the impossible and deliver an excellent product in due time. It seems evident but…

This commitment to the project can begin with quite simple things such as:

  • change the signature at the bottom of your emails to indicate clearly your belonging to the project
  • update the recorded message on your answering machine ("here Pierre, leader of the project X within the division Y of Z")
  • don't miss an opportunity to share positive comments on the project at the coffee machine
  • be well prepared with an elevator speech that will not miss to praise the project in response to the classic question about your job: "what are you up to these days?"…

know yourself

There's also a key characteristic with great leaders: they are authentic! So, be conscious of your style and your personality.

For example: are you rather directive, consensual, paternalistic, action-oriented ? Real life example: I am very action-oriented and I have a rather participative/cooperative style. However, a few years back, under heavy project pressure, I involuntarily switched to a more directive and cutting style. And, it was a fiasco! Even more so because I did not feel at ease with this operating style and the change was thus very badly appreciated and interpreted as a lack of authenticity. Having said that, I had the opportunity to work with some very very directive bosses. And it was not really causing issues for anyone on the team because we knew very well what to expect upfront.

globalize your approach

It seems to me like I’ve always worked in an international setting. The project teams are geographically distributed, the customers as well. We use English as our common working language with of course some significant disparities in the level of mastership of the language. We often come from different cultures: Latin, Anglo-Saxon, Germanic, Indian, Egyptian, Japanese… When we evolve in such environments, it is mandatory to think global and to take into account the local differences which can lead to very different results for a same activity.

For example, during my first professional visit to Japan, I very stupidly (but I learned this only after the fact) tried to conduct with my Japanese colleagues the exact same brainstorming session I had done with a lot of success in Europe and North America. Complete disaster! Upon my return, I took a training on the Japanese culture. I was able to understand not only my error but, more importantly, the very uncomfortable situation in which I had involuntarily placed my colleagues (my apologies again, Hiroshi-San).

I had asked without any preparatory work a group of local staff of different hierarchical levels to exchange openly on their ideas. I had gone against their core mode of operation. As teams, they try to understand/test in small touches the positions of each other before softly pushing ideas. Nothing is innate in this domain of intercultural work and nothing is ever acquired. Assumptions can kill your project even if you had the best of intents. Please keep this in mind.

lead by example

One last point, "lead by example", generated animated discussions with some project managers when I exposed my ideas. I shall let you be your own judges.

Personally, I sincerely think that the project manager has to lead by example. I push the ball a little further in workshops in front of professionals by saying: “first arrived, last to leave, always open and happy, hard at work, positive…”. Of course, it is not only the number of hours which counts, but it is also what we put inside: the intensity. Nevertheless, all the great leaders whom I worked with in the field of project management are hard at work and volunteer. They are open and approachable. They have faith in the future. They also work long hours…

what else would you recommend doing?


You can also read this blog post in French here.

photo credit: © Pixelbliss -

Michel Operto

I've been leading IT projects for more than 20 years at telecom and computer manufacturers: Thomson Sintra, Digital Equipment, NCR, Nortel Networks, Orange Business. My passion is Project Management and leadership and I run a blog on the PM best practices at