A Look Into Project Leadership
By James M Shaffer
Project leadership and project management go hand in hand, with leadership having perhaps more soft skills than a person who “simply” manages a project by following some sort of process. I have written several posts about the difference between management and leadership so I won’t get into that topic here. I use the term leader rather than manager because I believe it takes both to be truly successful. Of course, only you can define your success but what others think of your success should play into your definition at least a little, especially your boss.
Project leadership can take on many forms and definitions; there are many widely accepted principles and disciplines to keep you up-to-date on the specific ins and outs of your area of expertise. I will not get into these specifics here. Instead, I want to get into the general skills that it takes to keep you into a project leadership role. Obviously this will not be a definitive list, but rather one that is designed to get you to thinking, “Do I have what it takes to get or keep this thing going?”
- Have integrity: This is a personal favorite of mine because so many people do not, even some so-called leaders. Without integrity, your team will not follow you because they will not trust you.
Trust and empower your team members: If you do this, your team will go to the ends of the earth for you and everyone will reap the rewards.
Communicate honestly: Having good communication skills are essential in any leadership position. As a project leader, you must communicate honestly so there are no surprises at the end of the day when the sponsors think everything has been going smoothly, and it hasn’t.
Be organized: Keep project files organized on the server (not your local computer unless it is backed up daily). Make sure all stakeholders know where the documents are that affect them.
Know how to create and maintain a schedule: Get your team involved early so you can estimate your man-hours. Once you have buy-in from your team, they will be more likely to work towards the deadlines rather than resenting it, telling you it is just too aggressive.
Know how to create a budget: Estimating is big! At the end of the day, you will need to make every effort to stick to your budget. You got buy-in from the team on the time estimates, so use them to create your budget and include other resources, expenses, and other capital items.
Understand Risk Management: Failing to understand this piece will result in failure of some sort. Know what can happen and what measures you will take to avoid it altogether or how you will react if it moves from the risk column to the event column.
Learn and follow processes appropriate for your industry: PMI has a set of processes that are general and widely adaptable for all projects. Learning additional skills such as Six Sigma, Agile, or ITIL (among others) is also recommended if it applies.
Be adaptable: One thing I like about being a project leader is the constant changing project environment. It speaks to my A.D.D. and is a constant challenge. One thing is for sure, being a project leader is never boring! If you are inflexible, chances are you are going to be miserable trying to be a project leader. If you are flexible, not only will you like your job better, but you will have a better chance at success as well.
I saw it written once that being a project leader is “the best job – ever!” I agree with this and would love to mentor new PMs that are ready to go. As I said before, this post is in no way intended to have a definitive list. It is simply designed to get you thinking critically.
I’d love to hear what else you’d add to it. Please comment below and give feedback.
James M Shaffer, PMP, is a project manager with experience in IT projects (web and infrastructure), large documentation projects for industrial equipment, and Itegrated Logistics Support and Total Lifecycle Management (ILS-TLCM). You can read more from James on his blog.