Playing the Right Leadership Role
Education and Training,
Human Aspects of PM,
New to Project Management,
Reflections on the PM Life,
Categories: Best Practices, Career Help, Change Management, Communication, Communication, Complexity, Education and Training, Facilitation, Human Aspects of PM, Human Resources, Leadership, Leadership, Lessons Learned, Lessons Learned, Mentoring, New to Project Management, PMOs, Portfolio Management, Program Management, Project Delivery, Project Failure, Project Planning, Project Requirements, Reflections on the PM Life, Roundtable, Stakeholder, Strategy, Talent Management, Teams, Tools
By Peter Tarhanidis
It is not unusual for project leaders to fill a variety of leadership roles over the course of the many unique initiatives we take on.
As I transition from one client, program, employer or team to another, my personal challenge is to quickly work out the best leadership role to play in my new environment. Therefore, I find it helpful to have some knowledge of leadership theory and research.
Leaders must understand the role they fill in relation to staff and management. That typically falls into three categories, as defined by Henry Mintzberg, Cleghorn Professor of Management Studies at the Desautels Faculty of Management of McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada:
Interpersonal: A leader who is either organizing the firm or a department, or acting as an intermediary. He or she is the figurehead, leader or liaison.
Informational: A leader that gathers, communicates and shares information with internal and external stakeholders. He or she is the mentor, disseminator, and spokesman.
Decisional: A leader that governs and has to make decisions, manage conflict and negotiate accords. He or she is the entrepreneur, disturbance handler, resource allocator and negotiator.
During one of my recent transitions, I thought I was a decisional leader, but I was expected to play an informational role. When I acted on information rather than sharing it and gaining consensus toward a common goal, my team was very confused. That’s why it’s so important to know the role you’re expected to fill.
When you start a new effort, how do you determine what role you’re expected to play? How has that contributed to your success?
by Christian Bisson, PMP
When a new person joins the team, there’s always a bit of a learning curve. But when teams fail to prepare new members, it takes even longer for them to provide efficiencies and improve performance.
Here are three training tips to help new recruits hit the ground running:
1. Don’t Put Trainees In Control
Being available to answer questions isn’t a sufficient way to train new team members.
While knowledge is transferred when you answer a question, new recruits can only ask about issues they’re aware of. This means they’ll often make mistakes that could have been avoided.
Rather than let team members learn things the hard way, share important information before questions are asked—and remember that details matter. For example, project briefs are done differently everywhere, and it’s not always clear who should be included if no one has been specified. A new team member might not think to ask if he or she has sent briefs a specific way at previous jobs.
2. Create an Onboarding Plan
Don’t make new team members chase people down to discuss processes or protocols.
I once joined a team where I was told to set up meetings with a dozen different colleagues so they could explain how they work. I didn’t really know how the conversations would turn out, but I expected the others would be prepared to meet with me.
The result was a bit surprising. The list of people I was supposed to meet with was outdated—several were no longer with the company—and those who were still around expected me to lead the meeting since I had set it up (which made sense). So they didn’t quite know what to say.
This experience was an eye opener. To make new members feel welcome, teams should plan onboarding discussions in advance and have information ready to share.
3. Take a Phased Approach
More often than not, generic training sessions bore and demotivate people, wasting everyone’s time.
Instead, training should be relevant to a person’s role and immediate needs. For example, not everything that a new team member should know will be relevant on day one. If you give them information they’ll need a few months down the road during onboarding, chances are they’ll have forgotten everything when that time comes.
Training and knowledge sharing should be done gradually. The gaming world offers a useful example. Many games have ongoing tutorials where bits of information are shared throughout gameplay, requiring the player to practice a new skill right before it’s needed. This approach maximizes the learning experience and keeps training from becoming tedious. It makes lessons easier to absorb and more likely to be remembered.
Training is often thought of a secondary need for new team members, being conducted as time allows—which might be never. How do you make time for training on your team? What type of knowledge transfer do you prioritize?
by Peter Tarhanidis
I’ve served in various leadership roles throughout my career. In one role, I worked with engineers to build and deliver a technical roadmap of solutions. In another, I was charged with coordinating team efforts to ensure a post-merger integration would be successful.
All of my leadership roles ultimately taught me there’s no-one-size-fits-all style for how to head up a team. Instead, the situation and structure of the team determines the right approach.
Traditional teams are comprised of a sole leader in charge of several team members with set job descriptions and specialized skills, each with individual tasks and accountability. The leader in this environment serves as the chief motivator, the coach and mentor, and the culture enforcer. He or she is also the primary role model—and therefore expected to set a strong example.
But, this traditional team setup is not always the norm.
Take self-managed teams, for example. On these teams, the roles are interchangeable, the team is accountable as one unit, the work is interdependent, the job roles are flexible and the team is multi-skilled, according to Leadership: Theory, Application, & Skill Development, written by Robert M. Lussier, a professor of business management at Springfield College in Springfield, Massachusetts, USA.
On a self-managed team, each person’s capabilities support the team’s overall effectiveness. While these teams do need to have their efforts coordinated, they spread leadership accountability across the group.
Members each initiate and coordinate team efforts without relying on an individual leader’s direction, according to Expertise Coordination over Distance: Shared Leadership in Dispersed New Product Development Teams by Miriam Muethel and Martin Hoegl.
Effective leaders adjust their style to the needs of varied situations and the capability of their followers. Their styles are not automatic. Instead, they get to know their team members and ensure their teams are set up to succeed.
How do you pick the right leadership style to use with your teams?
By Kevin Korterud
Beware: Strategic initiatives aren’t the same as typical projects—they tend to be considerably more complex. For example, strategic initiatives are usually bound by some form of dramatic urgency around schedule (regulatory, market), costs (process improvement) or consumer satisfaction (subscription, satisfaction).
But the differences don’t end there. Let’s look at some other complex dimensions that must be considered when leading a strategic initiative:
1. Stakeholder Management
The stakeholder landscape is much more broad on a strategic initiative than a project. In strategic initiatives, stakeholders typically span multiple departments within a company, creating multiple primary stakeholder groups. And these stakeholder groups will often have nearly equal shares in the success of the initiative, thus creating potential authority conflicts.
In addition, there are also governance functions—risk management, legal, etc.—that will have either a primary or secondary stakeholder role.
The complex stakeholder landscape necessitates communication processes that serve vastly different audiences. There exists both a two-dimensional communications problem: one dimension is horizontal (i.e., across stakeholders) and the other is vertical (i.e., involving higher levels of leadership). What once was a linear communication process on a project now becomes more of a matrix process to deal with the breadth and depth of stakeholders.
Communications will need to be carefully tailored to different functions and levels of stakeholders. For example, more detail for operational functions, and simple, high-level summaries for leadership consumption.
3. Progress Tracking
Strategic initiatives bring with them inherent complexities that can quickly overpower the progress report tracking processes that are commonly used to manage projects.
For example, strategic initiatives will typically have more suppliers than on a typical project. These additional suppliers bring with them different commercial arrangements, delivery methods, status reporting formats and progress metrics. On top of that, all of these progress tracking components need to be harmonized across the various suppliers in order to achieve a cohesive and durable view of progress position.
Project managers will need to review, refine and agree on common progress tracking processes, reporting and metrics that are universally accepted by all suppliers. By creating this single harmonized view of progress tracking, you are more readily able to identify and address delivery volatility.
When first presented with the prospect of leading a strategic initiative, project managers need to balance the excitement of leading a high-visibility engagement with the practical realities of effectively and efficiently managing delivery. By putting essentials in place, project managers can successfully move on to the next step in the career journey: leading their second strategic initiative!
What essentials can your share with project managers new to strategic initiatives that will put them on the path to success?
By Peter Tarhanidis
These days there is such a high influx of projects and such a demand for project managers, but such a limited supply of practitioners. How can companies help their project professionals improve their skills and knowledge so that they can work to meet that need?
Leaders deliver more results by sponsoring grassroots project management learning and development programs. Common approaches and best practices are shared across all levels of project managers—ranging from novices to practitioners. Therefore, if an organization has more employees who can learn to leverage project management disciplines, then the organization can meet the increasing demand, and are more likely to develop mature practices that achieve better results.
One type of grassroots effort is to establish a project management community of practice (CoP). CoPs are groups of people who share a craft or a profession. Members operationalize the processes and strategies they learn in an instructional setting. The group evolves based on common interests or missions with the goal of gaining knowledge related to their field.
For project managers, there is a specific added benefit of CoPs. They bring together a group who are traditionally part of separately managed units within an organization focused on strategic portfolios and programs.
CoP members develop by sharing information and experiences, which in turn develops professional competence and personal leadership. CoPs are interactive places to meet online, discuss ideas and build the profession’s body of knowledge. Knowledge is developed that is both explicit (concepts, principles, procedures) and implicit (knowledge that we cannot articulate).
In my experience, I have seen CoP utilized in lieu of project management offices. The members define a common set of tools, process and methodology. The CoP distributed work across more participants, increased their productivity to deliver hundreds of projects, improved the visibility of the members with management and positioned members for functional rotations throughout the business.
Which do you think drive better performance outcomes—establishing hierarchal project management organizations or mature project management disciplines through CoPs?