Project Leadership: The Latent Power of Success

Posted: January 16, 2011 in Project Management
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Increased complexity in contemporary projects puts a heavy burden on the project management profession. Project Managers do no longer have the luxury to be task-oriented only; they need to evolve into Project Leaders in order to bring success to their projects. Accelerating business, environmental, economic, and political changes necessitate the invisible force of running projects, namely leadership, to emerge and save organizations.

A cook lacking the skill to mix the right amounts of ingredients will produce distasteful food even if she has all needed ingredients and cooking tools. And a football team’s couch will drive his team out of a tournament if he does not integrate players’ skills to create the harmony required in the field. Not far from that is the failure project manager whose sole job is to complete project deliverables within given time, scope, cost, and resources without envisioning the project, communicating vision to the team, integrating efforts and removing roadblocks to accomplish the vision.

Effective project leadership has two main concerns; team needs, and project requirements. A successful project leader is one who creates the balance between both concerns and moves forward in achieving project vision. Concern about team needs encompasses understanding each member’s personal and professional aspirations and helping him/her achieve them in line with the project vision. Starting with clear assignment of roles and responsibilities, to assessing member’s abilities and providing required training to accomplish the job, to fully comprehending team evolution dynamics comprise the road map a project leader should adopt to develop the ‘team side’ of her leadership skill. On the other hand, managing project requirements is what brings deliverables to existence. Analyzing stakeholders’ needs, scoping project, managing cost and time constraints, foreseeing risks, creating key performance indicators and monitoring them are the primary tasks a project manager is hired to perform.

Balancing people side and task side is essential to implement a successful project. Excessive concern about team’s needs will not produce deliverables within given constraints by stakeholders, and, on the other hand, neglecting people’s needs while focusing on tasks will demoralize members, tear team apart, and result in a failure project. The right mixture of people and task orientation is what effective leadership brings to project management.

Effective communication remains number one skill a project leader should possess to influence her team and project tasks towards vision fulfillment. Creating a project vision is the beginning of a story that concludes only when vision is clearly communicated, understood, adopted, and accomplished by project team. Although not all team members are required to agree with the vision since it might be impossible, each member must understand the vision and commit to it. Continuous monitoring and controlling to the vision is critical to success. Project leader should keep any eye on vision completion progress and its alignment with stakeholders’ needs and organizational strategy. She should act proactively to adjust vision when strategy and circumstances necessitate that. This can only be achieved by an effective communication plan.

Creating a sense of team accountability is another vital aspect of project leadership. A leader should clearly communicate expectations of members, develop a practical measurement system to evaluate performance, give the team the ability to assess themselves against expectations, and finally develop awards and sanctions limits. Establishing accountability is a hard job to perform by the leader as it requires assessing the current abilities of the team and raising them to perform up to expectations then rewarding or sanctioning members upon evaluation. This all should be done rightly otherwise accountability will incur harmful consequences. If low performers are sanctioned for out of-control factors, resentment will develop and commitment will fall. Similarly, if high-performers are rewarded for out-of-control factors, favoritism will develop and negative conflicts will surface.

Understanding team dynamics and developing the team from individualism to team spirit is the first and foremost priority on the people side of project leadership. Most often team is comprised of members with diverse backgrounds, attitudes, and hidden agendas which make up the recipe of conflicts in projects. Hence, conflicts are inevitable, and project leader should exploit such conflicts to the betterment of the project. Naturally, members cannot evolve to the performing stage immediately. A leader should understand and help the team pass from Forming to Storming to Norming until it reaches the Performing stage in which the team experiences real cohesion and start focusing its efforts to complete project tasks.

By this every project manager needs to explore this invisible critical success factor and assess oneself against various leadership aspects whose absence could doom the project to fail. So, are you people-oriented, task-oriented, or do you create a balance between both? Bring this hidden power to surface and move forward to accomplish your vision.

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