We need project leaders. Project managers that inspire and motivate. Project managers who play to their skills and strengths.
Do a search on project management training and you’ll find that most of the courses listed talk about methodologies, roles and responsibilities, project planning, documentation, reporting and so on. A few mention communication skills and team building. And fewer describe the project leader.
When I think about someone who consistently delivers on projects I don’t think of the times they produced a great Gantt chart or the quality of their progress reports. No. I think about their qualities, attitudes and behaviours. Their tenacity. The way they take action. And the way they inspire and motivate people. Their project leadership skills.
Whilst I’m not knocking the need for a disciplined approach to project management processes―they are important―I do think we place too much importance in methods and certifications. Sending someone on a five-day course doesn’t make a project manager. Creating standard document templates doesn’t guarantee success. Projects continue to fail. They fail to meet the needs of the business. Fail to come in on time. Or they cost too much.There is a mismatch between what is perceived to be important and what works. What we need is project leaders.
Projects are vehicles for business change; they are key to creating benefit. Clearly project management is a core competence for any organisation implementing change. Yet I wonder if those directing and managing change grasp this?
Is this why success is often so elusive? I think so.
The project leader’s task is complex and challenging. It’s about
- Implementing the project organisation
- Managing an interdisciplinary team
- Handling uncertainty
- Shaping innovation
- Dealing with complexity
- Balancing structure and creativity
Inevitably there is uncertainty and ambiguity when leading projects. Sometimes we know what needs to be done but not how to do it. Sometimes our objective is unclear. We learn that different projects demand different project leadership skills.
Project managers come in all shapes and sizes. They come with different experiences, skills and strengths. But they are often treated as a one-size-fits-all resource. They’re not. There are four types of project and as many types of project leader.
Leaders are defined by their followers.
Some projects are evolutionary and some revolutionary. Some have clear goals. With these it is clear what is needed and how to do it. Others are inherently foggy. This is a project where there’s no clear understanding of what to do nor how to do it. Whether the project is about improving operations or responding to a change in business circumstances it is clear that every project has different characteristics that need different leadership skills.
Therefore, choose project managers according to the sort of behaviour, skills and attributes needed to run the project. If the project is akin to painting by numbers choose someone with experience and the ability to plan and deliver. On the other hand, if the project is more like a walk in the fog you need someone who is calm, has excellent communication skills and builds trust.
Leaders are defined by their followers. If we correctly match project with project manager we are more likely to succeed. We are more likely to find the right project leader!
Have Your Say
What are the most importance qualities of a project manager? What makes an effective project leader? Are project managers responsible for delivering business benefit? Please join the discussion.
Image: Kitty Terwolbeck.