Project Management
Published October 31st, 2016 by

How & Why Millenials Can Make Great Project Leaders

Not to use the M Word, but one of the largest generations in our time is changing the workforce and making an impact. According to the Pew Research Center, more than one-in-three American workers today are adults aged 18 to 34 in 2015. That means that the Millennial Generation surpasses Generation X to make up the largest percentage of our workforce.

Some say it’s not positive. You’ve heard it all before, how Millennials are entitled and hard to work with, but like any sweeping generalization, it’s untrue. If you’re one in the millenial age bracket, then surely all these generalities must get tiresome.

You know that young people are employed everywhere, but what you may not know is how many of those young people are in fact leading teams and managing projects. There are many posts out there discussing the best ways to manage Millennials, but less talked about is how to manage projects when you’re a young millenial, when you may not be taken seriously just because of your age. 

Millenials can make great project leaders. Here’s how:

The Rules Are Not So Different

Remove the age component and what we’re really talking about is leadership. And while experience can season a leader, everyone has to start somewhere. The rules for a young leader are not that different from those that apply to an older one, just the context changes.


The strong silent type may work when you’re writing a romantic novel, but when people are depending on you to tell them what to do, then you need to have a firm handle on communications. Being clear about the needs of the project gives your team the knowledge then need to do the work you hired them for.

This means listening as well as talking, which is doubly important for younger project leaders. Hear the complaints, don’t stifle them. Show that you’ve done your homework and know the project inside and out. Also, you may get insight from your workers that you can use, which will build the loyalty you need to lead your project to success.

Don’t forget to ask questions. You may be worried that you’ll seem ignorant or naive, but in truth your inquisitiveness engages your team and will help educate both of you. It’s important to seek a collaborative relationship with your team, that’s what a team is, and even as its leader you’re still part of that team. It can be easy to fall into old ideas of what a leader is, but being young is being more flexible and open to new ideas. Some of the old ones are keepers, others are not.

Know the Culture

Think of the organization as the team writ large. Just as you need to open lines of communications with your team members, so must you develop an exchange with the company to understand what is acceptable and how it does business. That doesn’t mean you have to agree or even follow its precedent, but before you can change anything you must understand how it already works and respect the history from which it came.

What are the rules and policies of the workplace? Maybe people are punctual and work diligently throughout the day so they don’t have to clock any overtime. Maybe there’s a looser structure where people are more autonomous and they set their own hours as long as their assigned tasks are completed by the end of the day. You want to set an example and adhere to the culture of that organization and not let your team think the rules don’t apply to you.

Upgrade the Project Management Software

The millenial generation is, bar none, the most technologically savvy of all generations. You’ve grown up with the internet, and you’ll be working with many who haven’t. While there will be some resistance to switching software vendors, and you shouldn’t make a switch willy nilly, there will be some clear signs that the current project managment software will need upgrading:

  • The team is still using Excel for project management – you need to upgrade.
  • The team is using legacy home-built systems – you need to upgrade.
  • The team is using desktop-only software – you need to upgrade.
  • The team isn’t using collaboration software – you need to upgrade.

Do you research and certainly gather the team for input – you need their buy in. But you are well-poised to find a tool that moves the company forward, ideally online and with scheduling features and collaboration tools that make your job easier.

Give Credit Where Due, But Stand Your Ground

When you’re working with people who are older and possibly more experienced than you, you’re not going to want to take them for granted. You need to recognize and value their input, experience and skills, which is why you hired them for the team in the first place. You neither want to be intimidated by another person on your team or act arrogantly towards them.

But there is a hierarchy. You’ve been tasked with leading the project, so you must be firm and respectful. Older people can be just as sensitive as younger people, frankly anyone can, when being told what to do. If you’re more diplomatic you may avoid conflict. But sometimes there just is going to be disagreement, which is fine, if you can use that as a dialogue to build trust and further communications. But it’s your job to manage the project.

Have Fun

One thing you can offer their team is inspiring a better balance of work and leisure. The work-life balance is all the rage nowadays, but some people who have been at a job for a long time can become calcified and wear their responsibilities like a rock, which brings both them and the team down. You want to help them avoid team burnout.

While it may not always be true, younger people tend to have less defined lives. You’re possibly still exploring and experimenting, which may mean that you even go out to a movie every now and then or have a drink and socialize with friends. You can’t force your team to have fun, but you can try to initiate a more playful environment at work by taking the team out to lunch or having a hike or offering some fun perks when they reach a milestone in the project.

The Buck Stops With You

You can talk, listen, be fair but firm and bring about a playfulness to the work so it’s not a grind, but when all’s said and done, it’s you who are responsible for the success or failure of the project. You have to hold yourself and the team accountable. Therefore you lead by example, so if one of your team members misses a deadline you treat them the same why you treat yourself for the same infraction.

That means having to make some tough calls. Sometimes you’re going to have read the riot act to the team member if they’re not holding up their own part of the project. Maybe they have to be moved to another task or they could even have to be removed from the project. You can’t allow personal relationships or the need to be liked get in the way of the overriding mission to make the project come in on time and within budget.

Don’t Forget… You Won’t Be Young Forever

One day you’re going to be the older person at the company, and though you may not be there yet, it’s important to keep that perspective. It will allow you to better manage the people on your team, regardless their age, but will also provide you with memories. We often forget what it was like when we were young and recycle those same prejudices to those coming up behind us. If you can keep these experiences fresh in your mind then you’ll be a great leader no matter how old you are.

Young or old alike, there’s one thing that every project leader cannot do without: online project management software. With you can bring better scheduling and collaboration to your team, while getting all the robust project management features you need to lead. Be sure to stop by and sign up for our 30-day trial.
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