As Digital Project Managers, we aren’t often “people managers”—while we aren’t directly responsible for the professional growth of those team members, I would say that our management styles can still have a large impact on how our team members work.
Within this article, we discuss 5 different management styles that every Digital Project Manager should know about, so that you can figure out which camp you fall into.
As you read, ask yourself:
Is your current management style the way you want to manage your team?
Is it the best way for you to lead your team?
5 Different Types of Management Styles
The 5 different management styles we explore in this article are: Results-Based, Democratic, Transformational, Servant Leader, and Transactional.
What Does “Management Style” Mean?
A management style is defined as the way you help your team grow, make decisions and ultimately, get work done.
The different styles I’ve listed below are ways to lead that I’ve come across throughout my time as a Project and Product Manager, as well as some I’ve read about.
Jump to the sections, or continue reading for an overview of each style:
1. Results-Based Management Style
“Get it done, and I’ll be happy—I don’t care how!”
Results-based management means that you don’t necessarily need to know—or even care about—where and how your team is getting their work done. In a results-based environment, team members have more autonomy to choose how they approach their work instead of having it prescribed to them.
This type of management style is probably one of the styles of management that I’m intimately familiar with, as the company I work for, Crema, has a results-based culture.
A results-based management style is on the other end of the spectrum from coercive leadership in which the person in charge tries to get everyone to comply with their mandates. The expectation is set that you trust them, like adults, to get their work done—efficiently. This also means that when team members feel like there’s a better way to get the work done, that you hear them out and perhaps even change a process so that it’s more efficient.
The primary focus of this management style is exactly what you think it is: results.
This creates an environment of mutual respect and can be very motivating to types of people prize autonomy and mastery over their work.
Not all projects, people, or work environments are suited to a results-based paradigm. Results-based management can leave some people feeling unsupported and can lead to a sense of isolation or siloing as people work more independently of one another.
Tip For Results-Based Managers
Results-based management styles really work best in work environments where people have openly bought into the idea of results-based work from the start. Because not everyone works best with this management style, I find that it’s best to mix this type of management with others, especially for projects.
2. Democratic Management Style
“You’re the experts, so discuss what you all think is right—let’s just do that!”
Democratic management means engaging your entire team in discussion, particularly to make decisions, rather than making them in an isolated manner.
Democratic managers usually strongly feel that their team is full of smart individuals that can come up with great ideas, no matter their role or place in the company.
When done correctly, this can create a strong team bond built on trust and lead to stronger results. This is because everyone has bought into the idea, given their ideas, and the final product is some combination of everyone’s ideas.
I’ve seen the democratic management style work really well for project teams, because everyone has ownership over the plan and the work getting done.
A democratic approach to management can also be one of the more effective conflict management styles, as it encourages everyone to contribute to the conversation, to participate and to own their part.
In democratic management, everyone is encouraged to own and contribute to the decisions—but decisions still need to be made. When everyone owns the discussion, it sometimes feels like no one does. When not managed correctly, meetings can quickly turn into a merry-go-round of passing ideas around without making a decisive plan for action.
Tip For Democratic Managers
You have to balance which decisions need entire team discussions, and which decisions need to be made on their behalf. I think this, along with the results-based management style, pair well together.
3. Transformational Management Style
“Come on, I’m counting on you to be better. Think bigger, jump higher!”
Transformational management means encouraging team members to go beyond what they’re comfortable—to focus on areas of change and growth, and always keep up with trends.
This management style can be helpful to grow a relatively green team into a high performing machine within a short amount of time. It’s common to see this style of management in a startup or fast-paced environment where team members are more effective when able to adapt to change and forge new ways of problem-solving or thinking.
The downside of the transformational management style manifests when everyone becomes so focused on being high-performing that you accidentally create a culture of burnout. This is because everyone is continually trying to raise the bar.
Tip For Transformational Managers
It’s important that the team knows that while you’re expecting a lot from them, that it’s still okay for your team to “tap out” and coast for a while.
4. Servant Leader Management Style
“How can I help you do your best work?”
Servant leadership means putting your people first and what needs to get done second. Servant Leaders place the overall health of the team above the results, with the thought that if the team is healthy, and you’re creating an environment for that, the project will be better executed.
Basically, servant leaders do anything in their power to help their team grow and feel supported.
This type of management style is a fan favorite of Digital Project Managers because, frankly, it produces results. If your team is happy, they’re going to be producing results, even if the work is not ideal. This is because your relationship with your team doesn’t seem transactional and it feels like you genuinely care about them.
Where servant leadership can go wrong is when you become too focused on being everyone’s friend, rather than work getting done. This can result in the work not really getting done—and then when you do have to push your team, it can create tension.
Tip For Servant Leaders
It’s important to ensure you find the balance between caring about your team as people, but also making sure that you’re hitting the mark in terms of results.
5. Transactional Management Style
“Please get it done and stop asking questions—and here’s what you’ll get if you do.”
Transactional management tends to use rewards to motivate teams to get work done. This is a leadership style that can be easy to fall into, especially when you have a lot going on.
Transactional management can provide clear boundaries—a straightforward setup of cause and effect that can be very helpful for getting short-term gains.
Because transactional management relies on an explicit exchange (you do this, and I’ll give you that), when one side of the equation disappears, there isn’t much left to uphold the other side over the long-term. Take away the reward (a benefit, perk, reward, recognition, competition, bonus), and commitment to the results soon starts to fade.
Tip For Transactional Managers
Sometimes, as Digital Project Managers, it can feel a little transactional with our team(s). You can feel like you’re just constantly going to them about the work they’re doing and maybe don’t have a strong personal relationship with them. That should be a hint that something needs to change. Your team should be doing the work because they care. Research shows that rewards are great for promoting quantity, not quality, and that you’re better off providing intrinsic motivation (e.g., a Developer who loves to solve problems).
5 Popular Management Style Tests
Below I’ve listed several different personality tests to help figure out what kind of person you are, which can relate to how you manage your teams and projects.
- The Accidental Diminisher Quiz
- The Enneagram Institute
- Leadership IQ – Leadership Style Quiz
- American Management Association Management Style Quiz
- Your Leadership Legacy
However, please understand that these quizzes aren’t the end-all-be-all. On that note, I found this podcast from NPR’s Hidden Brain to be super interesting as to why and how we sort people into categories and why that can sometimes be bad.
What’s The Best Management Style?
There’s no one management style that is the silver bullet, nor is there a standard set of management styles.
It’s important that you don’t just look at one management style and say, “That’s the one!”
Management styles live on a spectrum, and frankly, there’s no one management style that fits the need of all. The way that you work, the structure of the company you work for and the type of work that you do will dictate which management style is best.
That said, there is research that shows that the best way to manage people is by:
- providing people with respect
- offering emotional support
- accommodating different learning styles
- providing an environment where everyone can participate
- giving constructive feedback
All of these management behaviors can give the team the intrinsic motivation they need to do their best work.
What Do You Think?
What project management style, or combination of styles do you think is best suited for a Digital Project Manager? Why or why not?
Do you think there’s merit in just getting the work out of the team, even if it doesn’t tap into their “inner genius?”
Do you think the responsibility of managing the team from this point-of-view should fall to another role within your organization?
Share your ideas on management styles below! I’d love to hear from you and am looking forward to seeing your comments.