I’d really like to take credit for coming up with this line, but I can’t. I heard it during a trailer for a new TV show. But I immediately thought of it in terms of IT, project management and consulting leadership. In all three of those – especially when they are all combined as they have been for me most of the time – confident leadership is necessary. Sometimes you’re running a team, sometimes you’re going it alone, and all the time you’re working with some form of project or consulting customer. And in all these situations, your role as the PM / IT Consultant is to be a strong and confident leader.
What does it mean to be a project leader?
So, what exactly, does it mean to be a project leader? I’m sure it means a lot of different things to different people…and it probably depends on where in the organization you’re looking at the role. But to me, from my experience, it boils down to these three key concepts:
Have a take charge personality. I think the title of this article says it all. As the project manager ‘in charge’ of the engagement, we need to know from Day One how we’re going to manage the project, what the project involves, and how we’re going to keep everyone engaged. After all, it is our project, we’re accountable for it, and no one will look worse than us if we fail. So, basically, we need to know where we’re going with it and we need everyone else to jump on board. Yes, we need their input and we need their help, but ultimately we must be the ones running the show.
Be a person of integrity. Regarding the item above this one – it will be much easier to get everyone on board if we A) have the subject matter knowledge necessary to lead this engagement, and B) are a person of integrity and honesty. Do we do what we say we’re going to do? Do we lead by example? It’s much easier to get your followers to stay engaged, complete their tasks, and communicate well if they see you as a leader by example. This is a daily struggle I go through with my nine – count ‘em NINE – children and that has translated well for me over time to my project and consulting leadership positions. Everything you do is being watched…do it right and do what you expect others to do.
Make good decisions quickly. Are you the kind of person who can make decisions on the spot when necessary? Project managers must do that on occasion. Yes, consult the customer and team and even executive management when it absolutely calls for it. But there comes a time on nearly every project engagement when a key decision must be made quickly and you can’t always gain access to the right subject matter experts (SMEs) to get more input. You may need to make that call on your own…and if it means the success or failure of your project, you may need to act quickly and wisely…be ready and confident to make a key decision on your own. And, be ready to say ‘Halt!’ if you know there just has to be a meeting of the minds before such a decision can be made. Don’t be stupid!
The bottom line is, it takes a certain personality to lead projects. Just like it takes a certain personality to be a lead architect on a project. Or the PMO director. There has to be that acceptance to take on the leadership burden, the confidence and ability to do so, and the readiness to make calls on your own. And, of course, the acceptance of the fact you may not get a lot of recognition and you’ll probably get noticed the most if you fail.
As project managers, we must always do our best to work in the best combined interest – whenever possible – of our team, our project, our customer and our organization…as well as to be able to choose between all of those when a decision may not benefit all.