Project Managers: Strong Candidates for Leadership?

Lakshika Hettiarachchi, earth9 Pte Ltd IOI Plaza, #08-04 210 Middle Road, Singapore 188994 lakshika@earth9.com

Abstract This paper looks at the differences between Management and Leadership and discusses several key determinants of project management success. It also highlights the qualities of good leaders and shows how the unique on-the-job opportunities presented to Project Managers enable them to progressively develop their leadership competencies. Finally, a self-assessment survey based on a well-known leadership competency model is provided for you to rate your leadership strengths. Keywords: project management competencies, leadership qualities

1. Introduction A manager is someone who holds responsibility for ensuring process and compliance and is viewed as someone who needs to be obeyed. A leader however, is usually considered to be someone that people follow by virtue of choice. Theodore Roosevelt is quoted as having said “Leaders lead, bosses drive”. Of course, managers may be leaders in some instances and viceversa. While both roles are critical to the success of an organization there are commonly drawn distinctions between the two. Leaders focus on: Vision Selling what and why People Enabling Flexibility Innovation Opportunity from risk Managers Focus on: Objectives Telling how and when Organization and structure Enforcing Administration Consistency Risk avoidance

Table 1: Focus of Leaders and Managers1

In its simplest form, management is the process of defining and measuring success – something that that the Project Manager needs to do in order to monitor and control the project performance during the various stages of the project life cycle. 2. Project Management: Critical Success Factors With the rapid progress in the development in the Project Management domain especially over the last decade, formal competency models have been built to capture the various skill sets required of the professional Project Manager - with those developed by the Project Management

Page 1 of 11

Institute (PMI) being among the most widely accepted. It is assumed that readers will be familiar with the different Knowledge Areas and processes that form the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK), as well as the general management skills a Project Manager will need to possess. Additional lessons can be learned however, by looking at real-life project case studies to examine the types of issues that can present obstacles to the success of a project. Identified below are some specific areas that Project Managers need to pay close attention to. a) Identifying the Stakeholders Various factors will influence the choice of the internal or external project team members. It is critical that the Project Manager identifies all key project stakeholders, especially those who will be involved at the key decision-making stages. The roles and responsibilities of these parties need to be formally agreed upon in the Project Initiation phase. Subsequently, these individuals need to be kept updated on progress of the project. A recommended approach is for the Project Manager to create a customized Project Communications Plan with the roles and responsibilities pre-filled. They can then follow up with obtaining or confirming the names of the relevant persons at the Project Kick off meeting. b) Identifying Assumptions And Risks It is unlikely that all the assumptions and risks can be identified at the contractual agreement phase. Thus it is important that the Project Manager documents key project assumptions and evaluates potential risks early in the project planning phase. One of my current projects had to be put on hold for 1 month, because my client’s Project Manager formally signed off the key documents without ensuring the required internal approvals. The Project Manager had been formally assigned as the authority for sign-off, with responsibility for coordinating internal approvals in the organization. Hence, production work had commenced upon the sign-off. Unfortunately this Project Manager suddenly left the organization at very short notice, leaving a new person to take over. The new Project Manager discovered that several key stakeholders had been omitted in the review process. Work on the project had to been halted while the reviews were performed by all the relevant parties. Project Managers have to use their judgment and discretion in deciding how to deal with such situations, and with experience, will learn to take such unexpected developments in stride. A risk to the project could also be the lack of experience of the team members in performing their assigned role on the project. Issues such as the competencies of the project team and possibility of key members or stakeholders leaving the organization in the midst of the project are not often included under the list of identified risks. In a client-vendor or partnership situation, it is critical to the project success that both sides assign competent Project Managers to own and manage the project execution.

Page 2 of 11

Another potential risk the Project Manager needs to examine is the political environment (internal or external) of the project. An example of such an environmental risk being actualized took place on a project that my company was commissioned to implement for a multi-national organization. Just as we commenced the project with their regional office, the ownership of the project was taken over by a more senior staff member from our client’s head-quarters in Europe. There were clearly political issues at play which were totally outside of our control. Our original client, the regional stakeholder, explained to us that there was nothing that could be done about the situation as the budget approval for the project came from the head-quarters. From an original estimate of 6 months, we are now more than a year into the project execution. The original vision of the project is vastly changed, with the project timeline and scope of deliverables greatly impacted. While such events are out of a control of a Project Manager, they can certainly be identified as a project risk if the political environment is known in advance. There are accepted methodologies and guidelines for carrying out formal risk assessment and control. The time that is spent on this undertaking needs to be in proportion to the value or impact of the project. c) Ensuring Accountability comes with Authority A Project Manager might work with a team of people, each of whom who might hold varying degrees of seniority in an organization. However, in many organizations, it is usually the Project Manager who carries overall accountability for the project results. Hence is important that the Project Manager is adequately empowered for the job. For example, if a Project Manager is not provided with the pre-requisite authority over the various resources needed to carry out the project, the matter has to be taken up with senior management. d) Knowing your Team A good Project Manager will seek to know what drives and motivates each individual team member. Sometimes, a certain amount of flexibility works better than a rigid application of the rules or processes - and helps to circumvent situations where team members might feel they are being unfairly treated or assessed. When working with a team for the first time, a Project Manager can evaluate the use of tools like the Myers-Briggs personality test to obtain insights into how various team members might react under different situations. A recent article in the CIO magazine reported that team members who are ‘techies’ are least likely to respond to an authoritative style of management – especially if the manager is someone they view as not possessing the skill-set to fully understand the work that they do. e) Watching the Tangible and Intangible Success Metrics As every Project Manager knows, the constraints of time, cost, scope and quality need to be closely watched. Each organization will have different systems and processes in place to manage specific aspects of the project – including areas like Cost, Procurement etc. The Project

Page 3 of 11

Manager will need to be proficient in each of these Knowledge Areas, and ensure that all the key parameters are closely monitored. If an organization’s Project Management processes are not mature, the Project Manager should own the responsibility of putting together the basic processes to ensure that the project can be effectively monitored and controlled. Simple templates for measuring Cost and Quality aspects of the project are often a good place to start. Apart from the tangible measurements, the Project Manager needs to be sensitive to the unspoken and often intangible factors too. Take for example the matter of a minor change request that could be implemented with minimal additional effort - but which would create a lot of goodwill with a key client or stakeholder were it carried out free of charge. The Project Manager can apply discretion in such situations, as opposed to simply going ‘by the book’. In the final analysis, the stakeholders’ expected return on investment of the project needs to be balanced by the project constraints as well as risks. Managing expectations of stakeholders and knowing when to say ‘no’ is one of the most important skills required of a Project Manager. In reality, rarely is it a direct ‘no’ anyway. In most cases, the Project Manager will be required to facilitate the process of identifying a course of action that is acceptable to all stakeholders. The question of whether ‘the pain is worth the gain’ will help to assess the options available. If the Project Manager has been monitoring and controlling the project by keeping close watch on the key project success metrics, it will be easier to evaluate the best response in any given situation. 3. Leadership Apart from building up core management skills, the development of leadership competencies is a natural and desirable progression for the experienced Project Manager, as depicted below.

LEADERSHIP

MANAGEMENT

DOMAIN EXPERT

text

Figure 1: Growing Sphere of Influence in an Organisation

Page 4 of 11

Project Managers control the activities and tasks related to a project. Since these activities and tasks are performed by a team of people, most effective Project Managers generally possess some degree of leadership traits which enable them to bring a team together to accomplish the project objectives. While all leaders do not necessarily possess strong domain expertise, their influence is beyond that of those who focus is only on managing. There has been a lot of study on the subject of what makes a good leader. Experts have drawn out various competency models which are often used as frameworks for corporate leadership training programs. Others have also attempted to answer the question of whether good leaders are ‘born’ or ‘made’. While opinion remains divided on the answer, research has shown that organizations that have put into place long term leadership training programs have documented highly beneficial results. Given this fact, it is worthwhile to look at traits that are often identified with good leaders, and to examine these characteristics with the Project Management perspective in mind. Several qualities of good leaders are highlighted below. a) Have a Vision A leader is able to capture the hearts and minds of followers with a compelling vision or passionate goal. Without a vision for where they are heading, people lose their motivation and zest. Thus an important role of the leadership is to continuously keep the vision at the forefront of everything that they do. This ensures that people understand what they are working towards and can see the ‘bigger picture’ at all times. Good leaders also set the pace and act as an example and inspiration to their followers. They are quick to seize on opportunities, driven to reach the goals and are committed to following through with the required action and staying true to the course mapped out. Leaders of organizations or business units deal with the same realities as Project Manager: how to accomplish a defined goal or vision with a given amount of resources and within various internal or external constraints. The Project Managers ‘world’ in many ways can be seen as microcosm of what happens at the overall corporate business level. A key differentiating factor is that the Project Manager often works with a project vision or objective which, more often than not, may have been defined by others. b) Are Decisive & Adaptable Leaders are often called upon to handle difficult or crisis situations. They take the initiative and respond quickly. A leader is able to weigh all aspects of a given situation, including opportunities and risks, and take a decision on the best course of action needed. Once the decision is made, the leader ensures that where necessary, the required resources are committed towards the course of action decided upon.

Page 5 of 11

Project Managers, as part and parcel of their job of managing projects, are decision-makers. They are have to solve problems that crop up on the project and are required to adapt to unexpected developments or changing environments - or else see their project add to the statistics of the large number of failed projects! It highly beneficial for new Project Managers to develop the mindset that problems and obstacles are simply part of a project (and of course life itself) and keep in mind that their role in the organization is to find the solutions. People who are recognized to be problem solvers naturally tend to rise to the forefront as candidates for leadership positions within an organization. All organizations exist to meet a need or provide a solution, and person who is often sought after for solutions in the face of challenging circumstances performs a leadership role. (Whether or not they are recognized as a leader in a formal capacity) c) Inform, Inspire and Motivate Leaders convince people that the vision presented is one that is worthy of their commitment. They execute a vision by motivating, guiding, inspiring, listening, persuading, and most importantly, through creating what Daniel Goleman et al. describe in their book ‘Primal Leadership’2 as ‘resonance’ - an ability they suggest is linked to one’s emotional intelligence. Creating resonance involves being attuned with peoples feelings and moving them in a positive emotional direction. Research has shown that being able to create a positive emotional environment has a strong influence on the likelihood of a leader’s success. In motivating people to work towards a vision or goal, leaders need to be able to obtain the buy-in of the people they work with by presenting a compelling argument and rationale. Strong leaders are thus often skilled communicators too. Subsequently, consistent follow up and action directed towards ‘seeing the vision through’ will determine the leader’s credibility. Similarly, good Project Managers create unity of purpose with their team via teamwork and collaboration. Their focus is always on bringing all the project resources aligned with its objectives. This involves working closely with a project team and being able to motivate them to work towards the common vision in the face of various internal and external constraints. Understanding how to create resonance with the project team will greatly contribute the Project Manager’s effectiveness is motivating and guiding them. Project Managers also have ample opportunity to continuously hone their communication skills through the high level communication required on the job. d) Walk in Integrity Good leaders have a set of strong personal values that they hold on to. They do not compromise on these values even in situations where it might seem advantageous to do so. Needless to say, it is important that the Project Manager do likewise. The project team closely observes the behaviour of the Project Manager, who needs to set an example.

Page 6 of 11

e) Value People A good leader values people and is committed to providing opportunities for their growth. Leaders who are able to rally people towards a common goal and objective have usually built up loyalty from people who recognize this commitment to their welfare. Genuine concern for the wellbeing of people is something that can rarely be feigned. Goleman et al. cite the example of a BBC executive who was charged with informing a group of journalists that the division they worked in would be closed down. His matter-of-fact and high-handed approach did not go down well, and the meeting turned into a near-disaster. The following day, another executive was sent to address the same group. He took a completely different approach and succeeded in communicating genuine concern for their wellbeing. The result was that he was applauded at the end of the meeting. People will align themselves with one who they know has their best interest at heart. The personal bonds and the level of confidence built up often outlast the professional relationship. It is fairly common in the corporate world for leaders to bring their trusted employees with them when they move on to a new organization. Similarly, even companies exhibit loyalty to their vendors on the basis of strong relationships formed by parties who have previously worked together on a project. Project Managers are directly responsible for their team and have opportunities to build good relationships with the team as well as other project stakeholders. As people management is a key part of their job, they will, with experience, learn how to relate well to diverse groups of people with different backgrounds. Even though a team may be disbanded upon project completion, the relationships formed can be enriching and rewarding and last well beyond the duration of the project. f) Prioritize Good leaders are able to prioritize their time according to the vision and or goals regarded to be most important to them. They often have to make choices in the face of conflicting demands or differing viewpoints. In such situations, they need to make the decisions that will ultimately be in the best interests of the organization, and communicate their rationale effectively so that it has the buy-in and support of the followers. Project Managers also face various demands on their time and need to able to focus on the activities that will result in the greatest contribution towards the project objective. Often, they are also called to be a point of mediation in situations of conflict within a team. They have to find ways to get all parties to move forward in the best interests of the project and the organization.

Page 7 of 11

g) Recognize Gifts and Strengths Good leaders are able to recognize the skills and abilities of those around them. They recognize the gifts of others and place them in positions where they can make the maximum contribution to achieving the common vision. As Max DePree says in his book ‘Leadership Jazz’, “Performance of the group is the only real proof of leadership.” Being highly self-aware, leaders are also able to leverage effectively on their own strengths and delegate tasks where necessary. Project Managers, by virtue of their need to work closely with the project team, often have special insights into the strengths and abilities of their team-members. This knowledge is often required in making performance evaluations or in providing inputs with regards to the formulation of subsequent project teams. h) Are Humble Good leaders direct their ego away from themselves to the larger goal of accomplishing the vision. As Edward Frederick Halifax is quoted saying ‘True merit, like a river, the deeper it is, the less noise it makes”. 4. Conclusion The success of a project will be measured by the real or perceived return on investment to its various stakeholders. Understanding how to maintain this balance within a dynamic project environment requires the Project Manager to be equipped with good knowledge of project management processes and possess strong management skills. Additionally, Project Managers are also presented with unique on-the-job opportunities to develop their leadership competencies. Each challenging project completed will add to their overall competencies and collectively to the competencies of the organization at large. Understanding and developing leadership capabilities are likely to result in a progressive increase in a Project Manager’s sphere of influence. This would no doubt position the experienced and effective Project Manager as a strong candidate for positions of increased leadership responsibilities within an organization.

References 1. www.expertise.ukzn.ac.za/wwwcomdev/CD2/Project%20Leadership2-2005.ppt (opened on October 8, 2007). 2. Goleman, Daniel, Boyatzis, Richard and McKee, Annie. (2003) Primal Leadership, 3-4, 2021, 253-256.

Page 8 of 11

APPENDIX LEADERSHIP SELF-ASESSMENT SURVEY
The following survey is drawn from the Emotional Intelligence Leadership Competencies developed by Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee.2 Circle the number on the scale that you believe is closest to your current standing. Remember that there is no right or wrong answer. The survey is designed to provide you with feedback about your leadership characteristics and skills.
Very Strong Mod. Strong Adequate Mod. Weak Very Weak

SELF-AWARENESS 1. I am aware of how my feelings affect my work and performance. 2. I live by guiding values and principles. 3. I am aware of my strengths and limitations. 4. I welcome constructive criticism and feedback. 5. I am able to openly admit my mistakes or faults and take responsibility for my actions. SELF-MANAGEMENT 6. I am able to stay calm during a crisis or trying situation. 7. I confront unethical behavior or poor attitudes in others. 8. I am able to prioritize multiple demands on my time without losing focus or energy on what is most important to me. 9. I am flexible in dealing with new challenges and am able to move out of my comfort zone 10. I set high personal standards and constantly seek performance improvements in myself and others. 11. I set challenging but measurable goals for myself and others and am driven to achieve them. 12. I am continually learning new things and ways to do things better. 13. I believe I have what it takes to control my own future 14. I constantly look out for opportunities or create them. 15. I consistently follow through on my promises and commitments SOCIAL AWARENESS 16. I listen attentively and am attuned to the

5 5 5 5 5

4 4 4 4 4

3 3 3 3 3

2 2 2 2 2

1 1 1 1 1

5 5 5

4 4 4

3 3 3

2 2 2

1 1 1

5 5

4 4

3 3

2 2

1 1

5

4

3

2

1

5 5 5 5

4 4 4 4

3 3 3 3

2 2 2 2

1 1 1 1

5

4

3

2

1

Page 9 of 11

Very Strong

Mod. Strong

Adequate

Mod. Weak

Very Weak

17. 18. 19. 20.

emotions of people around me I have a good understanding of the functions of my organization. I am aware of the social networks and key power relationships around me. I understand the political forces, guiding values and unspoken rules in my organization. I monitor service levels to ensure internal or external clients are getting what they need.

5 5 5 5

4 4 4 4

3 3 3 3

2 2 2 2

1 1 1 1

RELATIONSHIP MANAGEMENT 21. I am able to articulate a compelling vision and build buy-in from key people. 22. I help people to see beyond the day-to-day tasks to the bigger picture of what is being accomplished. I embody what I ask of others. I know what motivates and inspires people around me I am committed to cultivating the abilities of those around me and giving them opportunities to learn. I provide timely and constructive feedback and guidance to people. I recognize the need for change and actively take steps to challenge the status quo and champion a new order when necessary. I deal with conflict by understanding different perspectives and bringing differing parties towards our common ideals. I am comfortable in addressing and engaging groups of people. I leverage on the unique abilities and skills and of others to accomplish common vision and goals. I am seen as a problem-solver. I overcome opposition to change by presenting compelling arguments for my position. I am equitable and fair to everyone. I am respectful to people of all walks of life and strive to be helpful and cooperative with others. I endeavour to create an atmosphere where people are comfortable and not afraid to make mistakes. I take responsibility for team decisions.

5 5

4 4

3 3

2 2

1 1

23. 24. 25.

5 5 5

4 4 4

3 3 3

2 2 2

1 1 1

26. 27.

5 5

4 4

3 3

2 2

1 1

28.

5

4

3

2

1

29. 30.

5 5

4 4

3 3

2 2

1 1

31. 32.

5 5

4 4

3 3

2 2

1 1

33. 34.

5 5

4 4

3 3

2 2

1 1

35.

5

4

3

2

1

36.

5

4

3

2

1

Page 10 of 11

37. 38.

39. 40.

I make key decisions with counsel and input from others. I draw others into active commitment to the common goals and objectives by building the team spirit and identity. I recognize and praise good performance and contributions. I enjoy forging close relationships with people and spend time with them beyond work obligations. Column Totals

Very Strong 5

Mod. Strong 4

Adequate

Mod. Weak

Very Weak

3 3

2 2

1 1

5

4

5 5

4 4

3 3

2 2

1 1

Final Total for all 5 Columns: __________ Scoring Add up your totals for each of the five columns and add the five subtotals together for your final score, which may range from 40-200. Use the following for a general guideline of where you stand. 140 & Above 100 – 139 99 & Below You exhibit strong leadership capabilities. You are getting close. Don’t be discouraged! Many have built up their leadership skills over time to become great leaders.

You may use the results of this assessment to help you to determine the skills and abilities you can develop or continue to improve. You lowest scoring answers are the areas you need to improve. Self-awareness is the first step and you have already started! What are your strengths?
_____________________________________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________________________________

What are your opportunities for growth?
_____________________________________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________________________________

Page 11 of 11

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful