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Topics: Leadership, Organizational Project Management
Can a project manager be a servant leader?
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Given that the PM is the person who should give the projects the north and make the best decisions, is it possible that the PM can develop a servant or cooperative leadership or should we maintain in autocratic leadership?
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Servant leadership is the way to empower the team.in order to enable the highest team performance.
Servant leadership is reduced the controlling of PM. For example in agile approach they need for servant leadership more than PM.(they might not needed for PM).
Therefore it is recommended that PM should develop a servant or cooperative leadership rather than maintain an autocratic leadership.
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In my view role of PM is shared by Scrum Master, Product Owner and Development Team.
In this context, servant leadership role is more appropriate in agile/scrum context
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I am not sure about other industries but in IT most PMs have no formal authority over the project team members and most of them lack domain knowledge.

On the organization chart most PMs sit at the bottom at the same level as most project team members. Most PMs are individual contributors like the rest of the project team members and not real managers. It is not uncommon to have project team members who are much more senior than the PM some of them being real managers sitting at a higher level on the chart.

In these conditions PMs not only that they can not be autocratic leaders but they can't be leaders at all. These PMs can only be facilitators similar to the Scrum Masters in Scrum. These PMs can't give direction to the team but they can only ask for work estimates and status report.

Things change dramatically if the PM is a good technical expert with technical leadership skills and if he is being delegated powers to direct the project team. This type of PMs ca be real leaders and unlike the other PMs can choose their leadership style. There is nothing wrong if they choose a less autocratic leadership style.
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It’s difficult to be a Servant Leader if you as PM are still accountable for project success. In theory the development team all share ownership, but in reality if things go wrong then it’s you that will face the consequences of failure - not them. This means that naturally you have an impetus to step in if things are going wrong and implement decisive corrective action, but as such then destroy the self organising nature of the team. Of course, if you’re not accountable then you could argue what is the purpose of you even being there - you’d be at best a Project Administrator. Such is the nature of the Agile PM - You’re damned if you do, and you’re damned if you don’t...
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1 reply by Adrian Carlogea
Jul 08, 2018 5:23 PM
Adrian Carlogea
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"This means that naturally you have an impetus to step in if things are going wrong and implement decisive corrective action [...]"

How ca a PM that has never written a line code in his life can take corrective actions when the problem is purely technical? What are the corrective actions that he could take when he doesn't even really understand what the real problem is and he would not understand it even if the developers tried to explain to him.
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cooperative leadership, the team works better, when you impose they do what you say, not what they know how to do, I believe in that.
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Jul 08, 2018 5:05 PM
Replying to Phil Doyle
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It’s difficult to be a Servant Leader if you as PM are still accountable for project success. In theory the development team all share ownership, but in reality if things go wrong then it’s you that will face the consequences of failure - not them. This means that naturally you have an impetus to step in if things are going wrong and implement decisive corrective action, but as such then destroy the self organising nature of the team. Of course, if you’re not accountable then you could argue what is the purpose of you even being there - you’d be at best a Project Administrator. Such is the nature of the Agile PM - You’re damned if you do, and you’re damned if you don’t...
"This means that naturally you have an impetus to step in if things are going wrong and implement decisive corrective action [...]"

How ca a PM that has never written a line code in his life can take corrective actions when the problem is purely technical? What are the corrective actions that he could take when he doesn't even really understand what the real problem is and he would not understand it even if the developers tried to explain to him.
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The Robert K Greenleaf Centre for Servant Leadership (https://www.greenleaf.org/what-is-servant-leadership/) has a lot to say about Servant Leadership, however, I'll make one specific note.

"A servant-leader focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong. While traditional leadership generally involves the accumulation and exercise of power by one at the “top of the pyramid,” servant leadership is different. The servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible."

Some people misunderstand Servant Leadership as about doing some of the project work to assist (ie, Serving), when it is more about putting your people first. If that means stepping in a doing some project work where you need to, that's all well and good, but you need to keep in mind the well-being of the staff ahead of everything.

And to answer the original question, I would say in general, a PM should strive to be a Servant Leader, as a good Servant Leader brings out the best in their people.
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Thanks for your point; firstly: the converse position you imply is that no Corrective Action is ever taken. This would just let’s things spiral into failure and fly in the face of every Management best practice on the planet (PMBOK, PRINCE2, CMMI). Secondly you are confused about the nature of the Corrective Action and who creates it. As PM you should work with the team to draw if out from them, and it should be a detailed enough and at least semi-formal who/what/where/when/why that is appropriate at both the management and sponsorship level. I don’t really care about a change to a line of code, that is almost arbitrary. It would be more wide reaching and comprehensive:
1. Person x implement a code change by xx
2. Person Y to peer review change
3. Person z to mentor team on code review process
4. PM to escalate lack of training on automated unit testing suite to get training made available
5. PM to update wall board to include defect breakdown to improve team visibility of this issue
6. Person X include a walkthrough of this issue at the Retrospectiv
7. Person y to raise this in global knowledge base so it isn’t repeated again
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1 reply by Adrian Carlogea
Jul 09, 2018 4:28 PM
Adrian Carlogea
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Thank you for for your message Phil. In my opinion what you are describing is more like a facilitator type PM or Scrum Master rather than an autocratic leader.

In software development an autocratic leader would be someone who has formal authority over the developers and who gives them concrete instructions on how to write their code.

As I said most PMs in software development have no formal authority over the developers and no coding skills. In this case it is simply impossible for the PM to be more than a facilitator when working with the developers.

The most important thing however is that many issues that appear in a software development project are purely technical in nature and they are the result of technical decisions that prove not to be so good. It is hard for non-developers to understand it but even the best developers can take decisions with a bad outcome. In these situations PMs are simply powerless and no corrective measures taken by them would help the project.
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Yes they can. But your question depends on the type of project. On an Agile project, "autocratic leadership" ain't gonna fly. But for waterfall or predictive projects, you can be both command and control or servant leadership, and that depends more on the organization's culture, management styles, geographical location, industry and so many other factors.
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Project leadership style must be aligned to organizational leadership style. If not, there is no possibility to survive as project manager.
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