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Categories: Leadership


Thousands of books, quotes, advice and research have covered the topic of leadership. In contrast, there is far less dedicated knowledge on project leadership. And yet, as mentioned in the opening remarks at PMI® Global Congress 2013 -- EMEA and in a recent Voices roundtable on talent management, project leadership is fast emerging as a critical skill for project practitioners. 

The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), the region where I live and work, is booming with projects, particularly in construction, oil and gas. In the region, project managers have been recruited traditionally for their technical and engineering expertise. However, due to regional growth, the dynamics of the project work force are changing, and so are expectations of project managers. It is now common for a typical core project team to be made up of members aged 30 to 60, with a mix of locals and expatriates from at least five different nationalities, all working together in one location. This environment of change and uncertainty requires project professionals to become more responsive, adaptive, people-centric and emotionally intelligent.

For these reasons, I presented a lecture on this subject at a recent PMI Arabian Gulf Chapter meeting. From the discussion that evening, there seemed to be concerns about the role of a project leader versus the one for a traditional project manager.

The main points of concern that I clarified that night were: 

  • Project leadership has nothing to do with seniority, title or position in the hierarchy of an organization
  • Project leadership is more than management 
  • Project leadership is not easy 
Getting into specifics, I proposed these ways in which a project manager differs from a project leader:

  1. A project manager creates objectives; the project leader influences people and events to ensure those are met
  2. A project manager formulates plans; the project leader provides the vision and enthusiasm to achieve them
  3. A project manager monitors results; the project leader recognizes and initiates change to keep the project on track
  4. A project manager assigns activities; the project leader provides direction and motivation
  5. A project manager solves technical problems; the project leader encourages innovation
  6. A project manager puts the team together; the project leader fosters collaboration
  7. A project manager asks for feedback and information; the project leader explains how to make the information useful
  8. A project manager identifies stakeholders; the project leader analyzes and balances their expectations
Although not everyone agreed with me, I insisted that project leaders are made from experience, so building leadership skills is something every project professional can do to work through the changing business environment. To that end, leadership skills and experience can be gained by:

  • Observing the methods and skills of other good leaders 
  • Putting yourself into a challenging situation that requires you to adapt 
  • Accepting more responsibilities
  • Taking calculated risks and learning from mistakes

Finally, to help you establish a project leadership mindset, regularly ask yourself:

  1. What is working well and what isn't? 
  2. How can I run this project/task more successfully? 
  3. How can I help our client get more benefit and save money in the process? 
  4. How can I improve customer satisfaction and team motivation?  
  5.  What concerns the stakeholders most about the project right now? 
  6. If I asked team members to join me on another project, which of them would, and why? Which would not, and why? 
  7. Which parts of my project's infrastructure might I be overlooking right now? 
  8. What knowledge/skills should I gain to support me through my leadership experiences?
How can a project manager evolve to encompass a project leadership role? 
Posted by Saira Karim on: August 20, 2013 02:53 PM | Permalink

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