The Leadership Aspect of Project Management

Written by lewsauder

February 5, 2021

I’ve mentioned in this blog before of my interest in U.S History, particularly when it comes to presidents. It’s an apolitical interest. I’m much more interested in a president’s leadership quality than where they stood on the political spectrum.

In 1929, the United States stock market crashed. This led to the worst depression in U.S. history. Unemployment was at an all-time high. People were lined up for hand-outs in food lines. Multitudes of people lived in shanties.

Three years later in 1932, it was an election year. Voters in the United States chose Franklin Delano Roosevelt to be their new president. FDR famously implemented The New Deal, a series of programs and public works projects designed to stimulate the economy by using government funds to get the unemployed back to work.

FDR is often credited with bringing the country out of the depression. In reality The New Deal was not a miracle cure. The economic revival did not truly happen until nearly a decade later when the U.S. entered World War II. People were put back to work manufacturing all of the equipment needed for war.

But what FDR did was create optimism with his leadership. In his first inauguration speech in 1933 he famously said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” This instilled a level of confidence in the country that didn’t exist before.

Similarly, in 1980, the U.S was going through a comparable crisis in confidence. The economy was in a recession, fuel prices were at record highs, and Iran had taken 52 U.S. diplomats hostage. Ronald Reagan was elected and took office in January 1981.

While Reagan implemented new policies in his first one hundred days, one could argue that the confidence he instilled in the U.S. turned things around as much as his policies.

Despite the word “manager” in the title, the role of the project manager is a leadership role. A project manager certainly has plenty to manage. There are timelines, budgets, meetings, and status reports.

But a key aspect of project management is leadership. There are many types of stakeholders that turn to your leadership. Team members are usually the first to come to mind. There are also project sponsors, vendors and many others.

Like a strong president, the project manager needs to instill calm in a time of crisis. For instance, when a project falls behind schedule, project sponsors start to get nervous. How is this going to impact the budget, the schedule, and the success of the project overall?

The project manager needs to convince the sponsor that she has a plan to bring the project back on schedule. This plan includes all of the details including impacts to budget and schedule and a communication plan to make all stakeholders aware of the new approach.

This helps keep the project sponsor composed and allows her to communicate to her superiors that the project will succeed.

The project manager also needs to inspire confidence in the team. Everyone makes mistakes. Every once in a while someone makes a big one. When that happens, you feel foolish and lose a lot of confidence.

As a leader, the project manager should deal with these situations to keep team members from losing their confidence.  There is a famous story about Thomas J. Watson, the founder and President of IBM. As the story goes, one of his direct reports made a mistake that cost the company six-hundred thousand dollars (a lot of money back then).

He approached Watson and said, “I assume sir that you will be looking for my resignation.”

“Resignation?” Watson said. “I just spent six-hundred thousand dollars training you! Why would I want someone else to hire that experience?”

Leadership like that changed the employee’s mood from somber to confident in seconds flat. Project Managers have the leadership responsibility to instill confidence in their team members in the same way. Nothing makes a teammate more productive than having the confidence that you have her back.

Conclusion

Project management is so much more than coordinating schedules and driving tasks to completion. There are opportunities for leadership every day. Like issues and risks, project managers need to keep their eyes open for leadership opportunities. They are ever present and can make a significant difference in the success of the project.

How have you flexed your leadership muscle lately?

If you would like to learn more about a career in Project Management, get Lew’s book Project Management 101: 101 Tips for Success in Project Management on Amazon.

Please feel free to provide feedback in the comments section below.

Image courtesy of Pakorn at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Lew’s Books at Amazon:

Project Management 101
Consulting 101
The Reluctant Mentor

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