A lot of project management articles focus on technical aspects of the work (e.g., the latest tool, template, or technique to help manage scope, schedules, and people), but it’s just as important to focus on the social and cultural aspects of project management. Leadership, teamwork, negotiation, problem solving, and politics also have a significant impact on a project’s success.
Leadership frameworks can be taught in business schools and professional development courses, though leadership behaviors need to be learned and demonstrated. I once worked for a company that identified three specific leadership behaviors that project managers should demonstrate in addition to successful project delivery. Here’s a look at the three leadership behaviors.
Leadership behavior #1: Demonstrate a drive for results
Project management isn’t easy or filled with glory. The reality is projects are tough and can be stressful, frustrating, and have administrative challenges that can detract from the end goal. Focusing on the tasks that need to be accomplished (regardless of obstacles) and keeping the end goal in mind are easier said than done, but both concepts are critical nonetheless.
Effective project managers take responsibility to achieve the results defined by the project; this means you may not be able to simply delegate tasks to others and wait for the status update. On some of my projects, I never thought I’d be the person responsible for data cleanup in legacy systems or have to conduct menial and administrative tasks in preparation for the next day’s workshop; however, sometimes completing menial tasks and focusing on the end result helps move the project forward.
Leadership behavior #2: Demand the truth
In order to make the best decisions, project managers need to know the real issue or risk affecting the project. Effective project managers need to demand the truth from their teams and then present the truth to their management and peers. Minimizing problems and hiding issues with colorful explanations doesn’t help the project team or the project manager succeed. By asking team members to explain the status in basic terms without corporate rhetoric or political spin, the entire team will benefit.
Leadership behavior #3: Demonstrate courage
Projects don’t always go as planned, and it’s the project manager’s job to present the current status updates and describe any corrective actions needed to improve project performance. In some organizational cultures, there is a tendency to avoid reporting bad news until it’s too late. If you present a positive status update, it may give you a little more time to resolve problems on your own, but when a project is in trouble, project managers often need management support and attention to help turn things around.
It takes courage to communicate that there are problems with the project and to ask for help. It takes courage to have a conversation with a team member who isn’t performing well or to talk with a peer who isn’t providing the necessary support. It takes courage to make the hard decisions to cancel a project to save funding or to let an employee know they no longer have a position with the project. As project managers, these situations are difficult, but dealing with them is our job.
More leadership behaviors
It’s difficult to try to categorize all the leadership behaviors a successful project manager needs to exhibit into just three areas. A commitment to customer satisfaction, a focus on quality, and continuous improvement are secondary behaviors that I’d add to the list. Successful project managers possess the technical project management skills and the leadership behaviors to deliver a project.
What leadership behaviors would you add to the list? Share your feedback in the discussion.