7 Traits of Servant Leadership in Agile Project Management

7 Traits of Servant Leadership in Agile Project Management

Servant leadership has proven highly successful in Agile project management, an iterative approach focusing on the continuous release of information and customer feedback. It has been a standard in Agile project management for many years.

The term “Servant Leader” is attributed to a paper written by Robert K. Greenleaf in 1970. In this paper, Greenleaf posited that a good leader must choose to be a servant first, which then brings them to aspire to lead.

In contrast with the theory of Servant Leadership, the traditional autocratic leadership concept describes one who leads from the top. Control is everything to an autocratic leader, who demands that the group follows without questions.

Autocratic leadership can work well in the military and other environments where decisions must be made quickly and orders followed promptly. A military leader typically focuses on completing a mission without being concerned about the welfare of each individual. However, this style of leadership concentrates all of the decision-making on one person, which can ultimately exclude team members.

Those striving to become good servant leaders share many common traits. For example, a good servant leader puts the team first. Serving the group and allowing room for personal growth empowers the servant leader to move the group towards a collective ultimate goal. A servant leader can see the true strengths of individual team members and leads by allowing for self-organization and decision-making from within the group.

For Project Management Professionals (PMP), developing servant leadership traits can help them become more effective managers in an Agile environment. Let’s take a look at seven traits that capable servant leaders commonly possess and how these traits translate to an effective management style in Agile project management.

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1. Humility

The role of a Project Management Professional (PMP) is an important one in servant leadership, as it requires an individual to possess qualities of humility that are essential for successful projects. An effective servant leader must be humble — in other words, a person who prioritizes others above themselves.

This humility must be genuine; rather than simply acting humble, a good servant leader should know and understand that results cannot be achieved without the others in the group. In Agile project management, it is imperative that a leader accomplishes the group’s goals. By being humble in themselves and putting the needs and wants of other group members before their own, the servant leader gains credibility.

2. Good Listening Skills

Servant leadership in Agile project management is accompanied by good listening skills. A good leader must be able to truly listen without judgment and genuinely desire to learn and understand others before being understood themselves. Deep listening and understanding allow the servant leader to discern when they are needed and identify how they can empower each individual in a group.

3. Seeing the Value in People

A servant leader can perceive and recognize a person’s value. Merely thinking that a person is valuable to the group is insufficient. Good servant leaders can see a person as they are and appreciate what makes them an asset. Servant leaders commit themselves not only to the group, but also to the individuals it comprises, seeing and understanding both the parts and the whole.

4. Trustworthiness

Servant leaders lend their trust to others. Through this ability to give trust, they in turn gain trust from the group. The group sees the servant leader as a genuine person who is willing to shoulder risks on behalf of their followers.

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5. A Caring Person

A true servant leader honestly cares for each individual in a group. Kindness and compassion for the well-being of the people in the group create a sense of mutual trust and honesty. The result is a common purpose and goal that the group strives to accomplish together.

6. Accountability to Those They Lead

A servant leader holds themselves accountable to the others in the group. This creates a team of co-workers that move toward a common goal together. Instead of considering themselves the ultimate authority, a servant leader shares both authority and identity collectively with the group.

7. Puts the Needs of Followers First

A good servant leader recognizes the importance of the group over its leader. Empowering the individuals in the group allows a servant leader to ensure the group’s efforts will flourish.

Understanding a servant leader’s role is vital in effectively leading an Agile project. Doing whatever is necessary to support the team’s joint success is a core tenet of servant leadership as it pertains to Agile project management and Project Management Professionals (PMP).

By leveraging this leadership approach, a servant leader empowers their team to make decisions and independent contributions toward delivering desired organizational results. A servant leader should strive to serve first through facilitating meetings, removing impediments to success, coaching, and supporting the development team, the client, and the organization.

In Agile management, leaders must possess the ability to empower team members. A good servant leader allows teams to organize themselves and encourages innovation. Taking away distractions and obstacles to success allows a servant leader to guide the group in maximizing results and productivity.

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Erin Aldridge, PMP, PMI-ACP, & CSPO
Director of Product Development at
Erin Aldridge, PMP, PMI-ACP, & CSPO