Leadership, not just project management, is critical on all projects. Whether it comes just from the project manager – where it must be prevalent – or from others on the project team … leadership is very important.
And by leadership, of course, I mean true leadership. Not somebody to lead meetings, produce status reports, update the project schedule and send off a few emails every week. No, I mean true leadership. Make key decisions. Lead a skilled team. Engage the client. Negotiation strategic issues. Handle key financial situations. Network and connect as needed for the project. True leadership.
The problem is, true leadership is often lacking on some of the projects that need it the most. The reasons for this are many, and are worth noting…
Senior management is starting to micro-manage. They treat the project as a pet, smothering it with attention, thereby killing any initiative by the project manager or the team. An example is requiring any action, even the smallest, to have approval from senior management. Such an oppressive atmosphere makes it impossible to exercise project leadership.
The project is stocked with technical experts, but not leaders. While expertise is important, it is a mistake to assume that expertise is equivalent to leadership. Leadership goes beyond technical prowess, increasingly recognized as subordinate to other qualities. Often, a person selected for his or her technical expertise relies on that quality at the expense of the project.
Key indicators of poor leadership are being ignored. These indicators include a high turnover or absenteeism rate among team members, repetitive problems with the quality of output, and constant slippage of major milestone dates. Of course, these indicators may reflect other problems; however, there’s a high correlation between problems in leadership and those in performance.
The difference between project management and project leadership is confused. As I alluded to in the opening of this article, project management deals with the mechanics of managing a project, such as building a schedule, producing the status report, and leading some meetings. Project leadership deals with much bigger issues like handling risks, making critical decisions, handling conflicts, and engaging the project client. There is a difference – a big difference – and if leadership is missing, the project will likely suffer severely during times of issues and key decision making needs.
There is a tendency to wear blinders. In a complex, constantly changing environment, many project managers seek security by grabbing on to a small piece rather than looking at the big picture. They may focus, for example, solely on technical issues or on the schedule at the expense of more important areas.
In Part 2 of this two part series, we will look at the next five items on my list of ten indicators that leadership may be missing from a project. I look forward to our readers’ feedback and the sharing of their own thoughts when the series concludes (or along the way is good too!).