Guest Post by Sébastien Boyer
“Leadership appears to be the art of getting others to want to do something you are convinced should be done.” – Vance Packard (American journalist, social critic, and author)
What are the qualities of an effective project leader? Notice I used the word project leader and not project manager. Almost anyone can be a manager, but it takes some special qualities to be a great leader. Going by Packard’s definition of leadership, you need special qualities to get others to do what you want them to do.
Project Managers vs. Project Leaders
Project managers are typically trained to understand team dynamics and control scope, schedule and budgets — the three key influences that determine the success of a project. But it takes something more to be a great project leader.
S/he must be able to balance what the project plan requires, and what is essential to meet business requirements, even if the latter differs from the project roadmap. S/he must meet schedule commitments, correct mistakes, and drive productivity. S/he must be blessed with an uncanny ability to communicate zealously, spot red flags from afar, motivate team members, instill confidence and be respected by both peers and management. Project managers who can successfully do all these things don’t just manage; they lead.
Here are three leadership qualities every project manager needs to lead a team successfully.
1. A Passion for Learning
Learning, especially continuous learning, is essential for staying updated and relevant. It provides the continuous flow of new ideas and is the foundation when it comes to challenging the status quo.
Managers who truly lead are curious; they ask questions to connect the dots, get beyond the obvious, gain insights and, of course, enhance their knowledge-base in the process. They are the team’s go-to person, not because they have to be but because they want to be.
Each project can teach you a lot of things, should you remain mindful. The successes and failures benefit your experience, becoming tangible assets for the team as a whole. Successful project leaders never shy away from learning. Instead, they have the agnostic habit of “divine discontent,” a phrase shared by global advertising firm Ogilvy and Mather. According to the founder of the company David Ogilvy, “We have a divine discontent with our performance. It is an antidote to smugness.”
A passion for learning is an admirable quality every project manager must develop to become a leader.
2. The Ability to Inspire a Shared Vision
An effective project leader not only has a clear vision of where to go, s/he can articulate the vision also. S/he is not only just flexible and adaptable to change but also instigates them. In fact, s/he thrives on change and draws new boundaries.
Remember how Steve Jobs’ early vision for Apple inspired a decade of innovation? When Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, he breathed new life into the company, brought change, and taught the company to go beyond its boundaries to become the world’s most valuable brand. He had a vision for Apple, and for technology for the world as a whole. When questioned about his strategy and vision for Apple, Jobs calmly replied, “Let’s sit down with the engineers, and figure out what awesome technology we have and then figure out how to market that.”
That is inspiring a shared vision. A true leader lifts us up, gives us a reason for being and gives the vision and spirit to change. And that’s what Steve Job did at Apple; he made his team feel that they truly have a stake in the project. To become an effective project leader, this is what you need to do as well.
Empower your people to experience the project’s vision on their own, rather than simply creating one and forcing them to follow it. Let your people explore what the vision means to them and envision their future within its scopes.
3. A Willingness to Delegate Tasks Effectively
When it comes to the relationship a project leader has with his/her team, trust is the most crucial element. Delegating tasks effectively plays an important role in building trust by creating an atmosphere of enablement. But to delegate effectively, it is essential to assign work properly. You need to make sure that each team member is aware of his/her responsibility. At the same time, it is essential to create an atmosphere of obligation to perform.
The question now arises: How to do this?
First things first, you need to be clear about the purpose of the task and its outcome and communicate the same with your team members. For example, if you want your programmer to write a code for the app you are developing, tell them the purpose of the app and what exactly you are looking for and then ask him/her for an estimate to complete. The progress must be tracked based on mutually agreed upon deadlines.
A good project management tool is usually your best option here; something that not only allows you to assign tasks, set deadlines, and track progress but also helps your team collaborate on files and ideas to ensure that everyone is on the same page.
It is also important to consider the comfort-level and experience of each of your team members when delegating tasks and to agree on the required level of autonomy. As a project leader, your role is to remain more facilitative and less directive.
Leadership Behavior in Project Management
Wondering about how to infuse active leadership qualities into your existing project management methodology? Let’s consider the following example.
Say your goal is to improve the performance of your team. As a project leader you need first to establish excitement within the team as well as focus on your stakeholder inclusion activity. Emphasize your team’s existing mix of skill sets and create a work environment that largely depends on collaboration. Your communication plan must also highlight the team contributions as a whole.
When it comes to execution, the first thing you need to do is establish your team’s operating methods. It is important to reinforce positive behaviors within the team while managing conflicts proactively.
Finally, recognize and reward positive contributions of each team member once you reach the goal.
A great project leader naturally possesses these qualities. However, it is possible to obtain these qualities and build on your abilities with the right training and a little bit of compassion. In fact, it is worth your effort. It will help you find a position of strength within your company and enable management to see you as a valuable resource.