Are you leading or micromanaging your projects?

How do you know whether you, as a project manager, are being attentive or whether you’re being overbearing? Here, we take a look at the difference between leadership and micromanagement, and how to best support your team.

Anyone who works as a project manager will surely know from experience that the job certainly has its fair share of challenges. Leading a team of mixed personalities whilst simultaneously managing factors such as time, budgets and resources in order to deliver a project successfully can be nail-biting and satisfying in equal measure! 

Managers with a perfectionist nature or overzealous attitude, however, do need to ensure that they are in fact “leading” and not “micromanaging” instead. 

Micromanaging basically means that a manager takes over their staff members work or watches every move they make. This could be exhausting for both parties and this approach doesn’t do anyone any favours in the long term no matter how tempting it may seem at the time. 

Even if you’ve never been a micromanager before, there are certain factors that could turn you into one over the course of your career, so it’s important to regularly check in on your management style to ensure you’re not heading over into micromanagement territory. 

The dangers of micromanaging

Staff will naturally feel more appreciated and valued when they are trusted to be left to get on with the job in hand. Of course – there is nothing wrong with checking in, but no employee wants a manager hovering over their shoulder or doing their work for them – this will just lead to resentment, lack of confidence and even laziness that could quickly affect team morale. 

It will also leave a PM with precious little time to address the individual workload they are being paid to address!


The worst-case scenarios could see project managers suffering burn out and losing team members. All this of course, will negatively impact on company productivity and profit margins and so it’s in the team’s best interest to ensure everyone knows their path to follow during each and every project; even if those paths converge to take the smoothest and quickest way to a successful finish line.

The question all PMs need to ask themselves

So how do I draw the line between micromanagement but still hold my staff accountable for the quality of their work?

The solution

Project managers are required to show encouragement and support in small doses but also know how and when to back off. Every member of the team needs to be responsible for their own tasks, i.e. showing personal accountability as well as team accountability because every team member is working for the good of the whole. 

A good project management training course teaches managers how to successfully tread this fine line; working parallel to their staff but each staying in their own lane. One of the most important things to do is to really listen to your team, and hear what they need from you to get the job done.

An effective project manager will confirm who is accountable for what and to whom; meaning that there will be no ambiguity. Likewise, an effective member of staff will actually want to be held to account because this personal investment shows they have a purpose and a desire to do the best work they can. It is this two way street of respect that will keep the lines of communication open and the whole team engaged.

Trust issues

Employees who don’t feel trusted will naturally become distracted and make more mistakes than if they’d have been left alone in the first place! Micromanaging means that you don’t allow room for encouragement and improvement which impedes learning and confidence levels. Self-esteem naturally goes down and stress levels begin to go up, leaving team members unhappy and feeling out in the cold.

Time factor

Clock watching is a natural habit of any project manager as meeting deadlines to deliver a project on time and stay within budget is the overriding concern, but employees are actually more motivated to learn when they are given rein to set their own schedules. 

Everyone has their own individual way of working and self-starters need to be trusted to do their jobs within a particular time frame. There may always be one member of staff that needs a gentle prod, but they too will have their own unique strengths that should be respected.


A PM still needs to stay on the ball regarding the working habits and temperament of their team so that any loafers do not get a free ride and share equally in the accolades of the team’s work. 

Holding employees accountable for poor performance should not be confused with micromanaging and courses for PMs will teach that they are guilty of no such crime. 

For the health and viability of the team (and project), any “free-riding” will need to be recognised and addressed to make sure that everyone carries the weight of a project fairly. Others should not be bogged down by the less than satisfactory performance of one or two individuals and one way to prevent this from happening is to ensure everyone is set concise, measurable goals and regular performance reviews are undertaken.

Be Open

There will likely always be some kind of stigma or resentment held towards project managers or other team members who pick up on those employees who are slacking. A successful leader will work hard at developing an ethos of accountability throughout the team where no-one is afraid to speak out so that any irritations can be shared before they develop into grudges. 

Weekly meetings should always check on the momentum of a project and employees encouraged to brainstorm ideas on how each of them can be held accountable for meeting deadlines and the general performance of their individual and collective work.

Give your team what they need to do the job properly

Of course; it goes without saying that a good team leader will provide what their employees need upfront. Clear instructions, clear goals and deadlines as well as repercussions and important data and tools all help team members to have a blueprint from which to work from. 

A regular snag list will also mean that employees have access to and are aware of the issues they need to work on to ensure the project gets back on (and remains on) track as quickly as possible.

Be by their side, not on their back

Ultimately, a successful PM will lead by example – standing with their team in a battle but trusting them to do their own reconnaissance!

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