Project management is more than just working with numbers, charts, templates, graphs, and computer systems. A common denominator in all projects is people.
There is nothing more powerful than a project manager who utilizes one of the three main project management methodologies but focuses most of their time on being a strong leader. This is because strong project management requires the creative as well as the analytical functions.
- Being a visionary
- Managing Relationships and Conflict
- Ethics & Integrity
- Managerial skills
- Focus on the most important things
Being a Visionary
True enthusiasm for one’s purpose cannot be faked. Likewise, effective project leaders must have a vision for the final product, service, or result that they are passionate about and wish to see to fruition. This vision gives purpose to the project team and inspires them to contribute to their maximum. It also motivates the executives, marketing, and sales departments to adopt the product and maximize its impact.
When leaders are enthusiastic and passionate about their project, it’s contagious.
Managing Relationships and Conflict
Since projects have a major people component, managing those relationships and the inevitable conflicts they give rise to is a key aspect of becoming a successful project leader.
A project is nothing more than a group of people attempting to accomplish a task. Hence, those people must be developed, nurtured, and given more career opportunities once the project is complete. In essence, project leaders must take the long term view that relationships are just as important as the project itself.
When the inevitable conflicts occur, the project manager must utilize one of the most important tools in their toolbox, conflict resolution. The 5 ways to respond to a conflict are:
Sometimes it can be a valid response to postpone the decision to a future point to collect more information or to be better prepared.
This response involves conceding one’s position to maintain harmony.
When each party makes concessions to arrive at a compromise, the result can be long lasting.
One party, or a separate mediator, can impose a solution but it often lacks a strong buy-in from one or both parties.
- Collaborate/problem solve
This response involves incorporating multiple viewpoints and perspectives to develop a collaborative solution. Open dialogue can lead to consensus and commitment and result in a win-win situation.
Project leadership requires motivating, guiding, and disciplining the project team, all of which require strong communication skills. The project leader communicates with the project team as well as executives, stakeholders, and anyone with a role in the project, which builds trust and moves the project forward.
Communication is a two way street in which listening is just as important as talking. Indeed, a project leader that talks too much is seen is impersonal and uncaring, achieving the exact opposite result intended.
Ethics & Integrity
Good project leaders exhibit integrity at every stage of the project. Integrity involves placing an unwavering focus on health and safety, conflicts of interest, discipline and so forth.
In short, it means doing the right thing even if it results in adverse consequences to the project. Usually, however, those consequences result in a trust level that brings about a corresponding amount of positive benefits in the future.
Project leaders are loyal to their team members, supporting them through conflict and crisis. Project team members need to know their leader has their back, and they reciprocate that loyalty when it is shown to them. This loyalty then produces a group atmosphere that results in strong interpersonal bonds and better work ethic.
Project leaders must be decisive. They must show their team that they can and will implement a decision at the appropriate time when enough information has been obtained.
There are six parts to the decision making process:
- Identify the problem
Often underrated, the definition of the problem and all of its boundaries sets the stage for a strong solution that achieves full buy-in.
- Gather information
The information gathering phase clarifies the issues, sheds a light on the underlying matters, and builds a a case for the merits of each argument.
- Identify the alternatives
Each viable option is brainstormed, including the seemingly unlikely ones. Doing nothing or postponing the decision can be viable options as well. Any options that can be rejected quickly are dismissed.
- Determine the pros and cons
If the decision is obvious at this point, the advantages and disadvantages need not be analyzed. But when it isn’t, each alternative is assessed for its pros and cons. Risk analysis often factors strongly in this phase, since many options have a probability of producing a certain result.
- Choose an alternative
At this point a decision must be made.
- Review the decision
At various points the decision must be re-evaluated to determine what the results were and what lessons have been learned for future decisions.
Project leaders are strong managers. Although leadership and management are largely seen as two analogous roles of a project manager, they are in fact not mutually exclusive.
That is, strong management is itself a factor in strong leadership. When project teams see that all the technical details are taken care of, they are inspired and motivated to make the project succeed.
That’s why the project manager should be well versed with a project management methodology. Implementation of the methodology takes care of the managerial functions, allowing the project manager to focus on other leadership aspects. Project success is the real goal.
You don’t have to be Steve Ballmer to produce a strong and successful project, in fact, you have better skills to make your project succeed than anyone else. But people are more likely to follow the lead of those they relate to. Charisma is only one factor of many in successful leadership, and it can be learned and developed.
In order to demonstrate charisma, the project leader strives to:
- Get to know their project team on a personal level
- Be approachable and friendly
- Show sincere care for others
True project leaders are servants. They empower their teams to make decisions and take responsibility for products and services that make a difference in people’s lives. This gives them a sense of purpose and meaning which is highly motivating to the individual and priceless to project success.
Servant leaders place a high degree of trust in their team, allowing them to make decisions that impact the bottom line. Thus, they have confidence in their team member’s ability to move the project forward and are quick to offer forgiveness when the team member stumbles. This produces a strong sense of motivation and increases the chances of project success.
Focus on the Most Important Things
Leaders must focus on the things that make the biggest impact to a project’s success. When the project’s most critical factors are being adequate addressed, the project team is highly motivated to take care of the details.
The project leader must prioritize tasks among the project team to produce the most efficient project execution. The most critical tasks must be identified and given the priority they need. When the project works like a well oiled machine because the most important tasks are being focused on first, the project team becomes highly motivated resulting in even greater project success.