It was November. I was pulled into a meeting with twenty or so managers and directors. They were stuck. A last-minute project was needed to meet a regulatory deadline by the end of the year. Resources were already stretched thin and committed to top priority enterprise projects. The lead department needed the support of all the other stakeholders to pull this off. From the discussion, it looked like it was not going to get the support. This was an opportunity to demonstrate leadership for project management.
This scenario, unfortunately, occurs far too often towards the end of the year. Every departmental leader protects overcommitted resources in order to be able to fulfill their promises. This is siloed thinking. Are these departmental managers and directors functioning as leaders or managers? Much has been written about the difference between leaders and managers. Based on the Project Management Institute’s talent triangle, besides technical competence, project managers also need to have strategic as well as leadership skills.
Leadership versus Management
|Control and execute||Motivate and inspire||PMI, DPM|
|Seek to maintain the status quo||Seek challenges||PMI|
|Think short to mid term||Think long term||PMI|
|Worry about doing things right||Worry about doing the right things||PMI|
|Have limited influence||Have a wide circle of influence||PMI|
|Organize process||Align people around vision||HBS|
|Focus on systems and structures||Focus on People||HBS|
|Manager is a title with responsibilities||Leadership is a quality||HBS|
|Execute by repeating what works||Improve what works||DPM|
|Are meticulous||Are mentors||DPM|
|Strive for success||Challenge definition of success||DPM|
Most of what’s written seeks to answer the question, “Are you a manager or a leader?” I would like to take a different approach and ask, “When are you behaving like a manager and when are you acting like a leader?” Not everyone has a job title of manager, but anyone can lead in a given situation. The passerby who encounters an accident, stops, directs others to call 911, seek help, and reroute traffic is behaving like a leader.
In day-to-day work situations, supervisors demonstrate a hybrid of management as well as leadership behaviours. The project manager is expected to execute, monitor and control project tasks. That describes management type work. At the same time, project managers need to lead resources over whom they have no direct supervision. They need to motivate, inspire, align people around a vision, improve processes, and exercise broad influence over people across departmental silos.
Project Management Leadership
That was the opportunity I had in that meeting—to see the big picture and come up with a solution. The departmental managers were seeking to maintain the status quo with limited control over their own resources. They were striving to successfully deliver their short-term commitments. The problem we were faced with had long-term impacts not just for one department, but for the entire company, as well as external organizations.
Finally, we agreed on a way forward. The plan was to design, develop and publicize a solution by the end of the year. The service delivery, however, will start the next year. That was a solution acceptable to all stakeholders. A director spoke with me the following week. She was aghast at the tone of the meeting and how everyone was stuck defending their own positions. It was the project manager who demonstrated leadership behaviour to innovate a plan, influence and align broad stakeholders around a vision, and then delivered it.
The solution was what the market wanted. Webinars promoting the solution were sold out the day they were announced. Multiple webinars had to be run and it was highlighted as a company accomplishment. You want to be the project manager that key stakeholders pull into meetings when they cannot see a way forward. You may not have the positional power, but you definitely have the opportunity to demonstrate leadership that has an impact across the organization. Act on it!
What are some instances where you have seen leadership demonstrated by project managers? Perhaps by yourself?
- PMI – https://www.pmi.org/learning/library/essential-leadership-skills-project-managers-6699
- DPS – https://thedigitalprojectmanager.com/leadership-vs-management/
- HBS – https://online.hbs.edu/blog/post/leadership-vs-management