Below I have outlined examples of good and poor leadership and their impact on project management. I aim to conclude with some ideas on what to do, and hope to encourage some feedback and examples.
I have been very lucky that for most of the large-scale business change projects that I have done I have worked with extra-ordinary, talented and charismatic leaders.
This creates the environment which confers responsibility onto capable people, inspires trust and encourages thinking, challenge, and collaboration. When a pool of talent is allowed to debate freely the ideas that will make the organisation stronger the quality of thinking improves with benefits to the outputs and outcome and people’s commitment to them.
This is not an abrogation: the role of leadership is to set the boundaries, define the goals and provide the resources (or constraints) in which the team must operate. This is strong leadership which can be directive in times of emergency or more coaching and supportive when circumstance dictate.
For two of the public sector transformations that I managed the leadership quest was as much about encouraging, coaching and supporting the talent (capacity, capability and drive) as it was about delivering project outcomes and the projects ran broadly parallel to business change programme with each supporting the other.
The business change programme would provide the training, tools, insights and free-thinking and the project programme would provide the outlet for people exercise better approaches, supported by their cohort in a collegiate approach to business improvement.
The secret to successful project management is to select a project which is going to be a success. As a project manager in the environment described above you have to work really hard to fail, because however you list the tasks, dates and budgets the real purpose of project management is not about compiling to-do-lists but about ensuring consensus, collaboration and commitment.
THE IMPACT OF POOR LEADERSHIP ON PROJECT MANAGEMENT
The above may be obvious, as indeed may be the observations on poor leadership on project management. A command and control, authoritative or overly-directive style will kill thinking and innovation.
Steve Jobs is alleged to have said “Don’t hire talented people and tell them what to do” .
If the retort from a leadership frustrated with lack of progress is that people need direction because they are not talented, motivated, educated (or lack competence, capacity or desire) they are wrong.
The goal of leadership should not to direct the people but to create the environment where people can grow. The role of a leader is to create other leaders.
If the leadership creates the environment and through coaching, training, support or mentoring is able to motivate and engage the people the role of the project manager is easy and the success of the project is inevitable.
Delivery is a function of Competence, Capacity, Confidence and Desire
Competence is a function of education and experience
Capacity is a function of resource management
Desire is a function a responsibility and opportunity
Confidence is a function of trust
All the above can be created and developed through a change programme delivering coaching, training, support or mentoring, and all this can be deployed to deliver projects.
If these elements are not present people, simply “keep their heads down” and do nothing pending an instruction from the boss. Inevitably therefore the leadership is the cause for failure even if the error or omission is manifest with the person who has failed to deliver.
How can a project manager deliver any project successfully in this type of environment?
LESSONS AND SUGGESTIONS
This is very difficult, but in such circumstances it becomes important for the project manager to become a project leader and to provide the type of support and encouragement that I have experienced from great CEOs.
The challenge will be to do this without undermining the boss, or be accused of getting involved in areas (people development) that are outside of the project (product delivery)
Informal social groups can help, as can workshops, which are ostensibly about problem solving (a project task) but are actually about skills development (a people task). The additional benefit of a workshop approach is that it can become a collective and collaborative “self-help” group. However, caution should be exercised so this is not divisive or become a whinging session about what can’t be done rather than be project and outcome focussed on what can be done.
Additionally, informal coaching, by lending-a-hand or simply asking “how are things going” can appear to be about getting a task done whereas the objective is about listening, offering support, trust and respect.
This is hard, and it is difficult if you are the project manager who is having to fill a coaching role, but it is essential if the alternative is to let the project crash-and-burn because the people are not engaged or frankly too scared to do anything.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tim Rogers is an experienced Management Consultant, Project and Change Leader. He is also Commonwealth Triathlete and World Championships Rower and a Tutor/Mentor on the Chartered Management Institute.