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Managing Research Projects

Managing Research Projects

People Skills Overview


The guidelines and resources included in this section are centred around the following themes:



A well motivated team will ‘reach goals  faster, come up with additional ideas, and increase work performance’. (Chang 1995). 

Teams working collectively have far greater achievement levels than individuals working in isolation, so it is worth spending time forming the best team for the project.  Projects often begin with a high level of motivation. Properly handled this motivation can be extended for a longer period throughout the project. Without a few ‘quick wins’ however, this motivation can be quickly undermined.

Some initial ideas for Research Team Leaders thinking about how to motivate individuals and the team include:

  • Employ effective communication strategies.  
  • Make a conscious effort to recognise the progress made within the project, through reference to previous actions assigned, or ticking off milestones.
  • Be aware of factors outside the team/department/institution that might impact team members’ motivation.

Managing different working styles

Identifying individual working styles (either personality types or typical team roles) will enable members to work to their strengths and be aware of their weaknesses, this will have positives effects on individual as well as team performance.

Having too many of the same type of personality in a team can prove problematic, for example if the team is made up of 'leaders' there may be too much independent work and insufficient collective discussion.  As a result, deadlines may be missed or areas of work left uncompleted.

For Research Team Leaders keen to identify and build upon different working styles within their team:

  • Taking the time to identify different working styles will provide benefits in the long term. 
  • There are several easy to use models to use, e.g., Myers Briggs, Belbin. 
  • If a team consists of a majority of one or two styles, this can be overcome by splitting members into smaller teams and making them responsible for particular tasks that contribute to the overall goals. 

Allocating roles and responsibilities

Identifying team roles and responsibilities will enhance team performance, as it provides clarity about who does what and encourages team members to take responsibility for their contribution to overall team goals.  Additionally, where one member becomes unable to meet deadlines or if someone leaves, it is easy to identify outstanding work and re-allocate it. 

When allocating roles and responsibilities it is important to:

  • Identify all the tasks that will be needed to complete the project. 
  • Allocate tasks evenly amongst team members, making use of team strengths or areas where development is desired.
  • Ensure agreement from team members to taking on specified tasks. 
  • Provide frequent opportunities  feedback to team members from individuals.  
  • Re-allocate roles and responsibilities only after agreement with all of the relevant team members.

Addressing poor performance

Incidences of poor performance in the team need to be addressed quickly and effectively.  Identifying poor performance,  investigating reasons why and finding mutual agreeable solutions will not only ensure optimum member performance, but also overall team effectiveness and meeting project team goals.  Poor performance, left unaddressed, will result in individual member de-motivation, reduces levels of teamwork and productivity and may endanger the success of the project.
Some tips and strategies for addressing poor performance are:

  • Informal reviews, conducted properly, will both energise the team and produce more sound solutions.
  • Open and honest channels of communication will ensure instances of poor performance are identified at the earliest opportunity. 
  • Clear identification of roles and responsibilities will provide clarity about who is (or should be) doing what tasks.
  • As a project leader, have an approachable attitude.  
  • Develop supportive communications skills.    
  • It may be useful to undertake a review to assess the situation and agree an action plan for improvement

Interpersonal Skills (listening, non-verbal, negotiation, persuasion)

Good communication is the oil that keeps everything moving smoothly.  Using effective methods of communication has many benefits eg preventing problems arising, smoothing over difficulties as they arise and creating an atmosphere conducive to harmonious working. For Research Team Leaders, good communication strategies will support the success of a project.

Negotiation and persuasion are key skills when trying to reach agreement, solve an issue or delegate work.  The 'negotiation' of different views/perspectives will provide a 'better' (more creative, productive, appropriate, cost effective) solution. 

The following interpersonal skills are crucial for effective team leadership:

  • Encourage open and honest communication between team members. 
  • Develop active listening skills. 
  • Be aware of non-verbal clues in face to face meetings.
  • Develop skills of persuasion.  
  • Be confident about negotiating solutions to create 'best' solutions


Delegation benefits both parties and is a vital tool for managing a project team. 

It provides opportunities to develop team members and free up time to complete other activities. It is a good tool to motivate team members and ensure their full engagement with the project.It may not be easy or natural to delegate your work to someone else, there may be a lack of trust, concern that the work will not be completed on time, or to specified standards.  However, not seeking opportunities to delegate may result in too much work accumulating with one person, it may also leave team members feeling underutilised.

Here are some pointers for Research Team Leaders when delegating work to team members:

  • Identify the most appropriate person to delegate to, this may not necessarily be someone less senior in the team, it might be a peer or a higher level manager. 
  • Communicate and agree a clear plan for completing the delegated work. 
  • Assess your current skills level in delegating work. 
  • Keep an up-to-date record of progress of delegated work.  
  • Remember that some people will need more supervision to achieve than others.

Giving and encouraging feedback

Encouraging open and honest feedback leads to productive team working and happier team members. Members will not be open and honest about their progress if they are struggling to complete tasks or consider they have made a mistake. A culture of blame and critical feedback will create an unproductive and unhappy team. 

Feedback from other team members may identify issues before they become problems.  More effective leadership (and possibly project success) will ensue.

Decision making

Decisions that are reached after careful consideration and without rushing into finding a 'quick fix' will prove effective in the long term.  Decisions that are made to address group priorities with a team approach will yield benefits in respect of addressing the most urgent issues, but also build collaborative team working. 

The greater people's involvement in decision making ... the more likely they are to be committed to decision outcomes and also to contribute ideas to more efficient and effective ways of working.’ (Hargie et al, 2004).

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