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The Importance of Servant Leadership

Blog posted by: Allan Thomson, AXELOS PPM Ambassador, 31 January 2020.

Smiling project manager standing presenting at table in office as colleagues sit and applaude

Servant Leadership sounds like a contradiction in terms but it is a highly important approach that project managers should consider and adopt. It is important to note from the outset that PRINCE2® does not have a preferred style of leadership. Because of this it can support any style, and this includes servant leadership.
Servant Leadership is important for the following reasons.

  1. Empowers the Team

This introduces the concept of “we” as a term rather than the project manager seeing themselves as “I”. It empowers the team as it puts the team members first but at the same time taking into consideration the overall objectives and purpose of the project. The phrase “We shall succeed together” is hugely important.

Sometimes in the highly emotive and challenging environment of project management the “we“ gets overlooked. It is up to the servant leader to ensure that everyone in the team is looked after. This in turn creates a happier, more effective and productive team and as a result performance improves accordingly.

As stated in our PRINCE2 Agile® guidance it is important to focus on creating a project environment in which the team can feel truly empowered and responsible for the way they work, and the products and value they produce even if the team manager is ultimately responsible.

  1. Facilitative and collaborative culture

Servant Leadership requires a facilitative and collaborative culture as opposed to an authoritarian “command and control” style still so often encountered. This style of leadership promotes the use of agile business behaviours such as: 

  • Collaboration between teams
  • Self-organization within teams to improve efficiency and deal with issues
  • Transparency and honesty when working together
  • Getting the right blend of communication through the use of various channels to improve effectiveness.

It has been said that when project managers act as Servant Leaders, their behaviour/style of leadership changes from being “managing coordination” to “facilitating collaborative”. This helps the teams create acceptable solutions for the project.

  1. Removing blockers

Servant Leaders need to help teams to expose blockers such as:

  • Communication bottlenecks with other teams
  • Excessive fault resolution timeline issues
  • Excessive documentation requirements from other departments
  • Excessive processing time and requirements reducing the team efficiency.

Servant Leaders need to be able to liaise with other departments to remove external blockers, so they need to have excellent interpersonal and communication skills. This doesn’t just keep the team efficient but also increases the respect the team has for the project manager. The value that project managers bring is not their position but the fact that they make everyone better.

There are some observations about the skills Servant Leadership add to project management, but this list is not exhaustive:

From my experience it is a very powerful project management tool and PRINCE2 can support this style of working as much as possible. There is nothing in PRINCE2 that limits using a variety of leadership styles and hence its appeal.


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