Monday, 12 September 2016

The value of project leadership over project management


Arguably a Project Manager with a good Sponsor and necessary resources can “ exactly what is says on the tin..” and following an effective project management methodology can deliver on-time, on-budget and to-specification.

The problem is that project management seldom has a clear scope, a committed Sponsor and all necessary resources. In such cases all a Project Manager can do is report problems, but not offer any analysis, diagnosis or decision often leaving this to the Project Board. This is a problem if the Project Board do not have the expertise or experience for tackling these issues.


A Project Leader is someone who can translate the ambitions of an organization into aims and tasks with deliverables and some clarity of the challenges and needs.  They work in partnership with the Project Board, sharing some of the responsibility for steering the project and ensuring delivery.

This goes way beyond simplistic reporting of tasks, risks and actions.


I am going to pick one very narrow quote that serves my purpose.

The way in which Sir Dave Brailsford always saw his role at British Cycling was as the conductor of an orchestra. He was not the manager barking orders, nor was he the coach imparting technical wisdom. In his role as performance director, he was a leader who created a finely-tuned environment in which athletes, coaches, sports scientists and the rest could go about the pursuit of excellence in perfect harmony.


Extending the orchestral theme Sir Dave also said he would never ‘…snatch the violin from someone and show them how to play it…’ since a) he cannot perform better than his team and b) this would undermine the team-member.


I agree that it is undermining for a Project Leader to tell people how to do their job, and compromises responsibility, accountability and ownership.

But it is important for the Project Leader to understand the people, task and challenges to be able to support or indeed step-in if necessary: possibly adopting one of 6 leadership styles appropriate to the person, task or challenge.

Commanding – someone who demands immediate compliance.
Visionary – someone who mobilizes people towards their vision.
Affiliative – someone who creates harmony and builds emotional bonds.
Democratic – someone who forges consensus through collective and fair participation.
Pace-setting – someone who sets their own high standards for performance, and expects their team to match them.
Coaching – someone who develops people for the future through nurturing and training.



Your Project Manager should not be a spectator and their agendas, minutes, papers and reports should not amount to an evidence trail or witness statement.  Whilst there is merit in impartial, objective independence that should not extend to passively watching a crash.

A Project Leader should be a participant, possibly even a partner who is active and concerned with delivery on-time, on-budget and to-specification and ideally keeping risk-low and communication-high throughout.

A good Project Leader will know when to nag or nudge for action, and when it is necessary to step in to avoid problems or safeguard the project aims and objectives.

Returning to the Sir Dave Brailsford’s Orchestra – whilst it would be madness to try and both play the instruments and conduct the music would is it wrong if they were a pianist and passively stood in front of a vacant piano?


Tim Rogers is an AMPG Qualified Change Practitioner, a PRINCE2 Project Manager, with an MBA in Management Consultancy. Past projects have included the incorporation of Jersey Post Office, Operations Change and Sales Support for RBSI and NatWest and the integration and incorporation of Jersey Harbours and Airport. He is a tutor/lecturer for the Chartered Management Institute, a past curator for TEDx, Team manager for Jersey’s Triathlon Island Games Team and Performance Director for Jersey Rowing Club.

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