Motivation, communication, authenticity - core competencies of a good project manager

Picture of Thomas Riemann-Seibert

Thomas Riemann-Seibert

June 14, 2017

Have you ever asked yourself these or similar questions? Do I need to motivate employees and if so, how? An employee is working against me, what can I do? What do I communicate, how and when? What does good project communication look like? What does being authentic mean to me? Am I authentic and do I even have to be? Motivation, communication and authenticity are the three essential emphatic elements and the core competencies of a good project manager. They are his heart, so to speak. This is how you learn these empathic skills and take project collaboration to the next level.

It all starts with motivation

As a project manager, it is your duty to contribute to a high level of motivation among your employees. However, it is also necessary to keep an eye on the limits of motivation and to know what you can do and who you can turn to for support in this case.

A motivated team is one of the keys to success.

Your success as a project manager depends to a large extent on the motivation of your employees and the entire team. What does that mean? Every single employee must have the will to succeed, just like you. This is already a big step forward. Now you need to motivate your team as a whole, because then the motivation of the individual will increase. Employees in a well-motivated team support each other, share their knowledge with each other and thus increase the performance of the individual many times over. And they enjoy doing it and have fun doing it.

Have you chosen all the members of your team yourself? Very good, then it is much easier to motivate employees and the entire team. However, you often get employees in your team that you have not chosen yourself, which makes it much more difficult. That's why you'll find a few tips below on how to motivate your employees.

Contributing to team motivation as a project manager - here's how!

As a project manager, demonstrate leadership quality by keeping the following principles in mind:

You are the role model.

Employees are guided by you, you are the project manager. Show your employees their own motivation. Above all, show them that it is their project, i.e. the project of everyone involved. It is not your project, because you alone cannot complete it. It is the project of the entire team and only together can you - your employees and yourself - be successful. Express this in your behavior and you will have taken a big step forward.

Make sure you have clear goals.

The clearer the objectives and desired results are to your employees, the more purposefully they will work towards them. Therefore, make sure you have a clear and unambiguous description of the project objectives that your employees can use as a guide.

Always be there for your employees.

Whenever an employee comes to you: Take time for them. No matter whether they come with a problem or a question, or simply to talk to you. Take the time to help your employee solve the problem, answer their question and listen to them. Show your appreciation and you will have taken another step forward.

Assign responsibility.

Encourage your employees to work independently. Always ensure that your employees work independently. The more responsibility you give your employees, the more effectively they will work towards the goal(s) that you have formulated as clearly as possible, as mentioned above. You will see: They will be happy to do it.

Tell your employees what to do, not how to do it!

Limits to motivation and what you can do then

Everything you have read in the last section works very well for most employees and leads to great results. However, you will also find that there are employees who resist this and do not respond - or worse, even work against you.

If you find yourself in this situation, talk to the employee concerned immediately. State clearly what you expect. Then give the employee a week to observe what happens. If you recognize a positive change within this week - good - then continue to work on it together. If not, then it's time to go your separate ways. If possible, make sure that the employee is given other tasks by another manager or part ways with them. Admittedly, this is easier or more difficult depending on the company. Try it anyway.

Get support.

If you realize that you are not getting anywhere with an issue or problem on your own, do not hesitate to seek support. This could be an experienced colleague, your boss, another manager you know well or even a coach. The important thing is not to wait and hope that things will sort themselves out. That won't happen.

What does communication mean now?

The Duden defines the second of the core competencies of a good project manager as follows: "Communication with each other; interpersonal communication, especially with the help of language, signs".

However, I like the explanation that can be found at Wikipedia finds: "Communication is the exchange or transmission of information. In this context, 'information' is an umbrella term for knowledge, insight, experience or empathy". So, when we communicate with each other, we transfer a lot of information - and not just by means of language or signs, but also on a non-verbal level.

Much of this also takes place on a subconscious level, as you have no doubt already noticed. A small example: you meet someone for the first time and the first few seconds and the first few words often decide whether we perceive the other person as likeable or unlikeable. This first impression rarely takes place on a verbal level: It is a classic case of non-verbal communication, which we are all familiar with.

Communication as a project manager

As a project manager, you will be in constant communication. You come into the office in the morning and your boss asks how the project is going. Your employees want to know what the boss has said. The steering committee wants to know where the project stands. A project manager colleague asks you for advice. An employee has a problem and wants to talk to you. As you can see: Communication is a constant challenge. So be prepared for this. Admittedly, it's not easy. Even if you tell everyone the same thing about your project, you have to package it differently for everyone. This calls for your intuition and empathy in terms of what you tell whom and how. Incidentally, there are lots of good courses on this if you need them. If you are interested, please get in touch with me and I will be happy to make recommendations.

Do good and report about it or those who communicate properly get more out of life (and the project).

I'm not saying that you should only ever report good things and sweep the negative things under the carpet. Not at all. Of course you have to report both the one and the other. But people often forget to report the good things. My plea to you is therefore: if something has worked well, then report on it. Firstly, it strengthens your project and secondly, there is always at least one person who takes something away with them and learns from it. And that's a great thing, isn't it?

Am I authentic and do I even want to be?

The social psychologists Michael Kernis and Brian Goldman have described four criteria that make a person appear authentic. If you are like this, you fulfill the third of the core competencies of a good project manager and are authentic:

  • Awareness - You know your strengths and weaknesses and are able to reflect on your motives for your behavior.
  • Honesty - towards others and yourself. You can also accept unpleasant feedback and learn from it.
  • Consequence - You act in accordance with your values, even if this could put you at a disadvantage.
  • Sincerity - You are prepared to accept your negative sides, work on yourself and achieve improvement.

I would like to add to this: you can't please everyone - so don't do it. Be who you are and do your thing. And make your decisions, even if you step on someone's toes.

And the question: Do I even want to be that? Yes, of course you do. You're bound to cause offense from time to time, you won't be liked by everyone, but you'll certainly be liked by those who matter.

How does this help me in the project?

If you are authentic, you are also a strong personality. In my opinion, you can't have one without the other. Because you're always going to get offended and suffer disadvantages. You have to put up with that. And you can only do that if you have a strong and confident personality.

In the project, it helps you in very different situations.

  • Your employees know that they can rely on you and that you won't leave them out in the cold if something goes wrong. Too often I have seen project managers blame their employees for mistakes instead of taking responsibility themselves. This kind of behavior is simply garbage.
  • Your steering committee knows that you make decisions and enforce them. Even if most managers don't like to admit it, this is exactly what they expect from a project manager.
  • As a result, they are also able to master critical situations. Everyone actually likes that.

As one of the three core competencies of a good project manager, authenticity helps you to bring your project to a successful conclusion. And it also helps you to stay relaxed. You don't have to constantly think about how you should react to what, because that comes from within yourself.

Can I learn to be authentic?

If you really want it, you can learn it. Nobody is born authentic, but many people are discouraged from being or becoming authentic from an early age. You may also be familiar with the phrases "Don't do that, it's not proper" or "Don't do that, what will the neighbors/acquaintances/uncles/aunts et cetera think". Such sentences prevent you from becoming authentic. Because you will then always think about what others will think of your actions.

Four tips to help you become authentic

With these four tips, you will gain significantly in authenticity:

  • Take a piece of paper and write down the values that are important to you. Hang it up so that you can see it at least once a day. Reflect on these values in everything you do.
  • Take a second sheet of paper and draw a line down the middle. Then write down your strengths on the left and your weaknesses on the right. Now work on making your strengths even stronger and either transforming your weaknesses into strengths or accepting them.
  • Sit down in the evening and review the day. Ask yourself whether you acted in accordance with your values. If not, you will learn from this for the next time. Be absolutely honest with yourself.
  • If something has gone wrong in your project or not gone as it should: Take responsibility for it. And think about how you can avoid this situation next time.

The most important thing on your journey is your values.


In this article, you have learned about the core empathic skills of a good project manager: motivation, communication and authenticity. All three together will enable you to bring your projects to a successful conclusion.

(Cover image: © stockpics |

About the author

Picture of Thomas Riemann-Seibert

Thomas Riemann-Seibert

Thomas Riemann-Seibert is a long-standing executive and experienced project manager with a focus on motivation, communication and organization.

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