Leadership for Project Management

Leadership for Project Management

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.

PMI Talent Triangle: Technical Project Management, Leadership, Strategic and Business Management

Leadership versus Management

AdministerInnovatePMI, HBS
Control and executeMotivate and inspirePMI, DPM
Seek to maintain the status quoSeek challengesPMI
Think short to mid termThink long termPMI
Worry about doing things rightWorry about doing the right thingsPMI
Have limited influenceHave a wide circle of influencePMI
Organize processAlign people around visionHBS
Focus on systems and structuresFocus on PeopleHBS
Manager is a title with responsibilitiesLeadership is a qualityHBS
Execute by repeating what worksImprove what worksDPM
Are meticulousAre mentorsDPM
Strive for successChallenge definition of successDPM
Leadership versus Management

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?