When I search for project management training on Google I find lots of courses on the topic. The vast majority refer to PRINCE2 and PMP courses. A few even mention agile project management.
What’s more, most emphasise project management accreditation and project management tasks: project planning, risk management, reporting progress, controlling change, managing and escalating issues and suchlike.
While I’d argue that these skills are important, I’d also say that they don’t guarantee success.
Because project management skills are typically task-oriented yet projects inevitably involve people. Or, to put it another way, projects are also people-oriented.
Project Leadership Vs. Project Management
When I think of a successful project manager, it’s not their qualifications that come to mind. Neither is it their mastery of Microsoft Project nor the quality of their progress reports.
It is their attitude and behaviour, and the way they influence project outcomes. The successful project leader has a number of distinctive qualities including:
- their enthusiasm, tenacity and integrity,
- a capacity to share an inspiring vision,
- an ability to motivate the team,
- and leading by example.
Here’s why …
Management is concerned with five basic activities:
- Setting objectives — Setting goals for the team and deciding what is done to achieve those goals.
- Organising people — Dividing the work into manageable chunks and choosing the best people to do the work.
- Motivating and communicating — Communicating the goals and motivating the team to work effectively to accomplish those tasks.
- Measuring performance — Setting relevant targets, analysing and interpreting team performance.
- Developing people — Developing capability within the team.
So, management requires you to be rational and logical and make use of certain skills and methods.
In contrast, leadership is not about the specific skills we possess, but about the way we approach our work and how we relate to others.
Quite simply, leadership is the part the manager plays in setting goals, making things happen, solving novel problems, and creating a new realities. This is characterised by our behaviour and attitude.
Managing Projects Is Tough
In failing circumstances no one can be relied on to keep their integrity. – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Managing projects is tough and things will inevitably go awry: deadlines threatened or missed, quality compromised, and costs overrun.
When this happens, tensions rise, outcomes are questioned and people start behaving unpredictably.
While some people pass blame, others will bury their head in the sand, and only a few can be relied upon to keep their integrity.
And, the project manager has to hold things together and navigate through the conflict while always maintaining focus on the solution.
A good project schedule or risk management plan may certainly help, but it is project leadership that brings the team back on track.
Please let me explain …
The Balcony and the Dance Floor
The project manager needs to keep in balance the overall project objectives with the organisational context. Or, to use a figure of speech, the project manager must spend time between the balcony and dance floor.
The dance floor metaphor, which was introduced by Ronald Heifetz in the 1990s, alerts us to get underneath the specific activities of managing projects and to look for patterns and causes affecting project performance.
Knowing how the environment is pulling your strings and playing you is critical to making responsive rather than reactive moves. – Ronald Heifetz
When faced with a particular challenge, the project manager needs to understand why there is a problem before finding the solution.
This is the difference between the detailed knowledge of project tasks and risks and an awareness of the project environment and how it changes over time.
For instance, think about a team manager holding back performance information. What does the project manager do? If she’s prone to losing her temper or making demands that can’t be met, would it be a surprise if information was withheld for fear of repercussions?
Or, when people cut corners to get the job done, what does the project manager do? If he were to squabble or pass blame, he would be part of the problem when it is his job is to find a solution.
So, the project manager must distance himself from the action and step on to the balcony.
In so doing, the project manager learns to understand what is going on. Projects will look different from the balcony.
There are ways of dealing with poor results, but not on the dance floor, chastising the communication of poor results. When the schedule inevitably slips, give direction and support, while understanding what is going on.
Project leaders create the right conditions to solve such problems. And, only then draw on their project management skills to plan for the consequence of poor results and delay.
If you want to be a better project manager you must focus on the role you play and how you relate to others.
What would you do differently?
Image public domain.