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 Marian Haus, PMP
Project managers have a major influence on the projects they run. Attitudes and leadership styles play a large part in how the team works together, how projects are delivered and the general environment for everyone involved.
Here’s a look at two very different project management approaches— authoritarian and participatory—and how they impact the entire project team.
Authoritarian Project Management
An authoritarian project manager dominates the project with his or her personality and ego, putting objectives first with a low emphasis on how the project team feels about the project journey. He or she imposes unquestionable edicts that must be followed no matter what. And goals and milestones are set without necessarily consulting the project team.
An authoritarian management and leadership style generally creates a tense project environment, with little room for independent actions and joy.
While an authoritarian style may be suitable in a rigid organization or in government or military institutions, this style will rarely work in other project environments where participation is encouraged or decisions must be made with the input of multiple departments.
Participatory Project Management
A participative project manager involves other team members or leaders in the decision-making process. A participatory project environment is, in general, a positive working environment, where responsibility and accountability are shared.
A participative project manager is typically more successful in small and collaborative teams and in projectized organizations where the project and its outcome are prioritized over obedience to the chain of command.
Without radical cultural changes, the participatory management and leadership style can be quite challenging when applied in a rigid and functionally organized project environment.
To quote author and management expert Kenneth H. Blanchard, a participative project manager understands that “the key to successful leadership is influence, not authority.”
What attitudes and leadership styles have you encountered? I’d like to hear your story.
Project Managers As Persuaders
by Dave Wakeman
I’ve heard unverified claims that some project managers spend up to 90 percent of their time focusing on communications.
While I won’t dispute communications does tend to garner a lot of attention from project managers, I will say that calling the type of communications that project managers engage in straight up “communicating” is a bit of a disservice.
As project managers, we communicate less than we persuade. I’d offer up the idea that we spend far more time persuading stakeholders, sponsors and team members to see the project the way we do.
If we are persuaders instead of communicators, how can we do a much more effective job of influencing the decisions and thinking of our stakeholders?
Here are a few ideas:
1. Think in terms of what the other person needs to know: We have so much information coming at us that we might feel like the best course of action is to just give everything to everyone. The problem with this is that it is ineffectual and overwhelming. And too much information usually causes people to punt decisions or fall back on previous decisions.
That’s why it’s important to think about the people you are communicating with before you say a word.
What do they need to know?
What actions do you need them to take?
What do they already know?
Ask yourself questions like this and try to figure out what your audience needs to know to stay up to date, take action, or buy in.
2. Ask yourself what is the next logical step you need someone to take: You should never go into a conversation without an understanding of what the next step should be.
If it is an action, make sure you state that action clearly with a deadline if possible.
If you need the person on the other end to follow up by a certain time, set that expectation.
If you are just trying to update people, make sure you spell out the next step you are going to take, if that is applicable.
3. Frame your conversation around the benefits: This is pretty important. People love when you are doing something for them. The key to being persuasive is often to shape your conversation in a way that makes the person on the receiving end feel like they are gaining the maximum benefit and that you are just there to serve.
What tips do you have for being a more persuasive communicator?
Good luck out there.
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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?