Project Management

3 Leadership Lessons From A Global Pandemic

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Categories: Disruption

By Dave Wakeman

My editors always say I bring an interesting perspective to project management and leadership. I like to think it’s because I come to project management from fields that are not often associated with project management, such as marketing, politics and sports.

Even though project management touches every field. 

As I’m writing this, I’ve been at home acting as chief teaching officer to my 9-year-old son, chief sounding board for my partner, chief shoulder to a lot of mentees and chief play toy to my bulldog, due to the spread of the coronavirus and the actions of governments around the world to protect their citizens and mitigate the damage of this new virus. 

While many of us are physically distanced from each other, I’ve had a lot of time to watch the responses and observe them as an exercise in project management. 

And, to be quite honest, if many of the leaders around the world were working as project managers for the organizations I work with, a lot of them would be fired. 

But … I think all of us can also learn a lot from this moment, and I hope we do. Here are three things I’m learning about project management from the coronavirus crisis: 

1. Leadership matters: I was in Australia in November, and I remember standing in the airport in Melbourne with my colleague the first time I was made aware of the coronavirus. 

Since then, we’ve seen many leaders around the world downplay COVID-19, lie about their knowledge of the disease or try to pass the buck for their poor response as the people impacted by the coronavirus continued to grow. 

Across the globe, this lack of vision, urgency and direction has marked the response to the coronavirus.

That’s a lack of leadership. 

In normal situations, we know that leadership matters and that having vision, providing guidance and supporting your team is important. In a crisis, the importance of leadership multiplies exponentially. 

This is why we have to recognize that our role as managers is to lead—to bear the brunt of knowledge, direction and action. That’s been missing in so many places throughout the pandemic. 

2. Communication is king: In general, 90 percent of a project manager’s job is communication, up and down the stakeholder map. That doesn’t change no matter what kind of project you are leading.

As we work through the impacts of the viral pandemic, we must consider what makes communication effective, and that includes things like timeliness, consistency and truthfulness. 

We’ve seen the timeliness of communication from leaders be pretty good, at least over the last few weeks. Though, if I were the leader of these projects, I’d default to communicating and explaining things earlier. 

As far as consistency, we’ve seen a number of leaders around the world change their messages and directions to citizens almost daily, which isn’t a very effective way to generate the best results. 

Finally, truthfulness. I know from experience that you can’t tell your teams and stakeholders everything all the time, due to legal exposure, security or other issues. But the malleability of the truth in the face of a once-in-a-lifetime event has been quite alarming. 

All three of these inputs are extremely important to the success of your communications with your team and stakeholders. 

3. Teamwork is essential: As project managers, we lead teams of people with diverse skills, agendas and needs. Our ability to get these folks moving in the same direction, if only long enough to complete their part in our project, defines our success or failure. 

In the global reaction to the coronavirus, we have seen a disjointed response with each country and continent going their own way. 

Lack of teamwork is harmful in this case, obviously. We haven’t taken coordinated efforts to reduce travel, slow infections and increase production of necessary medical equipment. 

But the larger point is that if you are leading a team and no one is working together, your ability to achieve your goals and positive results seems to deteriorate rapidly.

That’s on display today. 

Overall, I’ve been disappointed with the way leaders around the world have responded to the coronavirus outbreak. We mustn’t discount the lessons learned as we witness governing bodies across the globe either rise to the occasion or falter in response to the coronavirus pandemic. 

What do you think? Let me know in the comments. 


Posted by David Wakeman on: March 31, 2020 01:36 PM | Permalink

Comments (25)

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Hello David: I agree with your points and comparisons. Strong leadership, communication and teamwork is vital for success with COVID-19 and for project management. Thank you, and stay well!

Very interesting article., thanks for sharing.

David - I couldn't agree with you more. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the months ahead, both nationally and globally. Unfortunately I believe we are in this for the long haul.

David, a very interesting and in my opinion, accurate comparison. A LOT of lessons to be learned, for sure!


Excellent notes, communication is the cornerstone of every action. These are great lessons, but I have the feeling that more lessons we will learn from this crisis.


Thanks Dave.

I totally agree. Also I will add transparency in the plan execution as a leadership matter during this crisis along with communication and teamwork.

Thanks for sharing. In a disruptive environment like corona virus crisis, if no enough data and information is not available, the leader should tell the truth what is going on, and what will going to do next truthfully.

Hello David,
Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Loved the read and I agree to your statement on what makes communication effective, timeliness, consistency and truthfulness.

Yes, David, I agree that lack of leadership- including lack of "timely, consistent, and truthful" communication is costing lives and stressing our healthcare system. Out leader in the US does not lead, is boastful and egocentric, and lies. That does not make a good leader in any industry.

This is spot on!! Leaders in times of crisis need to be an oasis of calmness. When all around you are losing their minds...."be cool honey bunny...."

I agree communication and team work is essential. It is unfortunate that leaders responded to the pandemic by instinct (ignoring) instead of mitigating the risk.

Hello Mr David, thoughtful article you have made and we all are going to learn more lessons from this global pandemic Corona virus.

You bring up some good points. Thanks

Thanks for the message Mr. David. I feel that there are leaders in many countries taking proactive measures for the outbreak.

Great points! I would add I think leadership in this instance is also ownership - taking responsibility for the decisions made and consequences after the fact (something many find hard to do).

Great takeways, thanks Dave. especially on communication the 3 attributes cited can keep the re-assurance and engagement alive in communities.

You shared the pin points in terms of the lack of communication and inconsistencies that we have received recently from our respective goverments and the only way to move forward is to play as a Team.

Very insightful perspective!
This whole pandemic appears far worse than it should be because of less than desirable leadership, communication and collaborative effort by key players.

Dave, gracias por tu mensaje y aporte que debemos ir enriqueciendo con el desarrollo de la contingencia. Este un pequeño mapa mental de tu articulo para seguir actualizando.
Lecciones de liderazgo de una pandemia global
El liderazgo es importante
En una crisis, la importancia del liderazgo se multiplica exponencialmente.
nuestro papel como gerentes es liderar
La comunicación es el rey
la oportunidad
la coherencia
la veracidad
El trabajo en equipo es esencial
reducir los viajes
frenar las infecciones
aumentar la producción del equipo médico
No debemos descartar las lecciones aprendidas

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"The purpose of art: to make the unconscious conscious."

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