9 Project Management Lessons From Game of Thrones [Spoilers]

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Game of Thrones, HBO’s blockbuster fantasy drama, is about far more than waiting for winter to come.

There’s passion. There’s political warfare. There’s lots of murder (babies, giants, kings, favorite characters—you name it).

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And there are also plenty of leadership lessons. Yes, behind all the brain smashing, revenge plotting, and strange relationships, there is valuable wisdom, particularly for project managers.

Below, I’ve distilled nine of the most important takeaways from the series. And as a caution to readers: unless you are completely caught up with season four, there are major spoilers ahead.

1. Take servant leadership to heart.

Okay, maybe not so literally.

Daenerys Targaryen is a force to be reckoned with—and it’s not just her dragons. As one of the most empathetic characters on the show, she uses her compassion as a sword, gaining the love of thousands of followers. Daenerys earns her army’s respect through optimism, determination, and by offering something: their freedom.

Because of her resilience and empathy, her supporters are more predictable and effective than other surrounding armies. The power of passion and loyalty make her team strong and reliable. She calls herself queen and those around her respect her leadership.

Which is not the case for Joffrey Baratheon.

Joffrey does not earn his power—he is (wrongfully) born into it. He does not love his subjects. He has little regard for his people. He believes that people should respect him because of his title—and further believes that fear, not compassion, will make his subjects fall in line. This line of thinking ended up poisoning his relationships until the moment he died.

What can project managers learn?

Project managers should invert the pyramid—you are there to serve your team, not the other way around. Use your energy, your excitement, and your talents to strengthen your team. Communicate regularly with your group members—learn what they care about and what they are good at doing, and use it to the project’s advantage. Emphasize collaboration, empathy, and trust—and provide your team with what they need to thrive.

Don’t assume that because you are Project Manager, your team will give you 110%. You have to earn it.

2. Learn to give good feedback.

For all of her difficult qualities, Cersei is a master of giving feedback.

Of course, in the context of Game of Thrones, Cersei’s feedback is entirely malicious and manipulative, but it’s still highly effective.


She compliments first, she then notes a fault, and then she works with the person receiving feedback to make their performance better.

Take her approach to Sansa. When Cersei wants Sansa to write a letter to her brother, Robb Stark, she starts Sansa’s “review” gently. Cersei does not introduce her goals at first, but instead focuses on Sansa’s ability to improve. She says, “Sansa, sweet, you are innocent of any wrong, we know that. Yet you are the daughter of a traitor. How can I allow you to marry my son?” Cersei, through sheer force of (feigned) compassion and gentle feedback, is quick to show Sansa that she can overcome her father’s black mark by writing her family.

In the end, Sansa wanted nothing more to please Cersei and get a better review… and she did what was commanded of her.

What can project managers learn?

When giving feedback to a team member, make sure to recognize their strengths first. Let them know that you value them and want them as a member of your team. Follow that up with what needs to be fixed, and then work with them to develop their skills.

Hopefully, in a business setting, you aren’t trying to manipulate your coworkers into doing something unethical, but you will be inspired to encourage them to develop their skills. Cersei’s method, however egregiously applied, will work wonders.

3. Make sure your team members share the same vision.

If you watched last night’s episode, you know that Tywin and Cersei made a grave mistake. They launched an ambitious project to try and convict Tyrion Lannister of killing King Joffrey. While they showed great initiative in collecting and coaching the right witnesses and stacking the jury, they failed to take into account Jaime’s repeated objections. Disregarding the input of a key member of their team led to betrayal and project failure.

What can project managers learn?

Always be clear with your goals and deadlines, and always make sure that is thoroughly communicated to your team. If a team member objects—on either moral or practical grounds—take the time to listen. Your teammates may foresee hiccups in the timeline before you do. Listen.

4. Take company culture into account.

Honor and poor management skills killed Ned Stark.

Ned Stark superimposes his prior “company’s” culture from Winterfell onto King’s Landing. He demands that others change to fit his vision of how a country should be ruled.

He knows that Joffrey Baratheon was not, by blood, heir to the Iron Throne, and uses his unmalleable code of behavior to try to recruit those around them. His advisors told him again and again that it was a bad idea and that he would be betrayed—Littlefinger even began their relationship with this threat. Ned let his vision of honor go to his head and ignored their warnings.

And we all know what happened to Ned’s head.

What can project managers learn?

What works for one team might not work for another. Take the time to evaluate how your team interacts with each other, and how the company runs as a whole. Don’t be afraid to be flexible. Use your knowledge of company culture in project planning sessions—and don’t get distracted by what may have worked at another company.

5. Keep cool under pressure.

Part of Tyrion’s charm is that he regularly lands himself in trying situations—and talks his way out of them. After convincing Bronn to champion him at the trial at the Vale, Tyrion and Bronn quickly descend the mountain.

After resting, they are awoken by hill tribes, led by a terrifying warrior named Shagga. Though Shagga initially orders his tribe to kill Bronn and make Tyrion into traveling entertainment, Tyrion convinces him otherwise. He insists that House Lannister is an enemy of the Vale, and if they join forces with Tyrion, they will receive proper armor, arms, and vengeance.

The hill clans oblige.

What can project managers learn?

Through all of this, Tyrion is inches away from losing his head, his good means, and his dignity—probably a worse situation than facing project failure. Even so, he remains at ease.

Project managers must project calm and confidence at all times. They must stare down potential threats to their project and maintain an air of coolness. Had Tyrion panicked, he would have lost everything. Should you panic, your teammates will pick up on it, and your project will likely be lost in a crisis.

6. Involve yourself when you delegate.

The Wall doesn’t seem like it can last the night.

With Ser Alliser wounded and giants bashing in the gates, Castle Black doesn’t stand much of a chance. But Jon Snow takes command and quickly helps rectify the situation.

First, recognizing his own talents, he determines that he would be of little help to the archers on top of the wall. He puts Ed in charge of the archers, oil throwers, and wall scrapers. Then, he asks Grenn, a man of honor and leadership, to defend the gate. Snow then makes the best use of himself—he throws himself into the dangerous courtyard and helps win the battle.

What can project managers learn?

Project management isn’t just about recognizing other peoples’ talents, but also knowing your own. Jon Snow is next to useless and in unreasonable danger on top of the Wall.

But below, his swordsmanship helps the Night’s Watch hold the castle for another day.

Know your team well enough to assign tasks to strengths—and know when you are not helping a project in your current role and how to reposition yourself for better use.

7. Learn from your mistakes.

Petyr Baelish, aka “Littlefinger,” leads a life singularly focused on a search for power. This is motivated by a mistake he made in his childhood.

He fell in love with Catelyn Stark (Catelyn Tully at the time), but he is a lowborn boy and she is a highborn girl—and he stands no chance in winning her affections or a duel with a rival trained by the best swordsmen money can buy. He faces a devastating loss, but vows to change. This mistake teaches him that he needs power to get what he wants: in this case, Catelyn.

Of course, Petyr doesn’t get Catelyn Stark, but he does get her daughter after years of hard work. We’ll see if he is satisfied with his “prize.”

What can project managers learn?

No one is infallible. Mistakes will be made, and many will be your fault. The difference between a good leader and a great leader is oftentimes taking the time to grow—instead of being set back—when faced with failure.

Project managers should check their egos at the door and look for every opportunity to improve. Seek constructive criticism both from the top of the organization but also from the bottom; these insights can not only benefit the companies as a whole, but also managers on a personal level.

8. Know what you can and can’t accomplish.

Theon Greyjoy hasn’t had the easiest life. He is Eddard Stark’s hostage and ward for most of his life, his father all but rejects him, and his sister is happy to usurp (however earned) his power. Desperate to prove himself to his father and to his men, Theon decides to conquer Winterfell.

This is not the smartest idea.

While Ironborn are really great at sacking cities, keeping them is entirely another matter. They are far more interested in—and good at—pillaging than holding land. Bored with their conquest (and with enemies at the gates), Theon’s crew turn on him, leading Theon to a tortured fate.

What can project managers learn?

Ironborn have a long and proven history of raiding fishing villages. Theon should know that just from his family’s history. What he would have known, had he taken the time to learn about his crew, is that Iron Men do best at the sea—and that there is not much to gain from taking Winterfell, even when accounting for respect he could earn from his men.

Every team has a limitation. Learn yours and make sure you don’t come close to approaching it.

9. Don’t use the wrong equipment.

Recently, Oberyn demonstrated that the right equipment—a light spear—could win a fight against overweight armor and slow swords (giving up that victory with a touchdown dance in the end zone is another matter). But this lesson is also taught all the way back in the first season of Game of Thrones.

Lady Catelyn has possibly made her gravest mistake: accusing Tyrion Lannister of attempting to murder her son, Bran. She captures and drags the Lannister up to the Vale so that he can stand trial. Tyrion chooses trial by combat—and Bronn, a sellsword, comes to his defense.

Bronn faces off against Ser Vardis Egen, a man covered in heavy armor and a huge weighted shield. Bronn quickly wears the knight down, injures his leg, and then finishes him. Ser Egen’s hefty armor ends up slowing him down far more than helping him in his fight.

What can project managers learn?

When evaluating a project, make sure that you have all the resources you need—and manage them carefully. One invaluable tool that every project manager needs is good project management software. Capterra’s project management software directory is a great place to start your search for better tools to finish the job right.


Game of Thrones is a huge series—and this post doesn’t even touch what’s to come in the books. What leadership lessons did I miss? What have you learned most from Game of Thrones? Add them in the comments below (but make sure to warn others about spoilers)!

Looking for Project Management software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Project Management software solutions.

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About the Author


Rachel Burger

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Rachel is a former Capterra analyst who covered project management.


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Thanks Maghan!


Awesome article! I LOVE it!!

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