Attendance Is Mandatory
Leadership Training Facilitates Today's Project Managers and Tomorrow's Executives
BY JILL COLFORD
GROOMING THE MOST PROMISING PEOPLE FOR TOP LEADERSHIP ROLES INVOLVES TRAINING—THAT'S A GIVEN. EMERGING LEADERS MUST LEARN TO MOTIVATE WORKERS, COMMUNICATE UP AND DOWN LINES OF COMMAND, AND DEVELOP CORPORATE STRATEGY.
THE PROJECT MANAGER ROLE IS ONE OF THE MOST CHALLENGING JOBS IN ANY ORGANIZATION, BECAUSE IT REQUIRES BROAD UNDERSTANDING OF THE VARIOUS AREAS THAT MUST BE COORDINATED AND REQUIRES STRONG INTERPERSONAL SKILLS.
However, an often-overlooked truth is that project managers require these same leadership attributes. That's in addition to the ability to juggle budgets and time constraints, satisfy the needs of team members, meet project goals and achieve results.
“To be successful as a project manager, you need leadership skills,” says Nick Lake, PMP, project director, Bluelake Management Service Ltd., U.K. And the ability to lead projects to fruition on time and within budget is an imperative in today's competitive marketplace.
The project manager role is one of the most challenging jobs in any organization, because it requires broad understanding of the various areas that must be coordinated and requires strong interpersonal skills. “Leadership is all about influencing organizational members to successfully accomplish goals,” says Linda Neider, Ph.D., professor of management and department chair at the University of Miami School of Business
That's where leadership training comes into play. In a global economy where successful project completion can make or break a company, leadership training for project managers isn't just desirable. It's mandatory.
IN THE BEGINNING
Because leadership training can be carried out at any point in a project manager's career, it makes sense to get started early. The sooner you start, the sooner you and your organization will realize a return on the investment. In fact, leadership training can help even entry-level employees become a better team members, according to Steve DelGrosso, PMP, executive project manager, IBM Business Consulting Services, Bethesda, Md., USA.
“Early on in their careers, when they are team members, leadership training would help them in two ways,” Mr. DelGrosso says. “First, you learn why the project manager does certain things to make the team respond. But more important, even if you … have obtained some of these leadership skills that are developed in the courses, you can learn to be a better team member. You can apply the basics of leadership to your everyday job, whether you're the programmer or the team leader or the project manager.”
Leadership training introduces its own set of challenges, however. The breadth of training can be overwhelming, especially for project managers with limited people management experience. While a variety of skills can be taught in leadership training, smart project managers focus on three aspects that will be most pertinent to their day-to-day responsibilities: assessment, communication and agility.
Assessment. From a leadership standpoint, understanding and assessing the makeup of team members—including how they interact with one another and what their strengths and weaknesses are—is probably the most important skill project managers can develop. “If you don't understand your team members, you can't give them the right direction,” Mr. DelGrosso says.
In fact, a crucial part of leadership training is learning how to read people. “[There's] a set of questions you can ask people [on the team] to comprehend the unique underlying logic driving their participation at work which gives you insight into the unique ways they need to be led,” says Samuel Culbert, Ph.D. Dr, Cuthbert is professor of management at UCLA's Anderson Graduate School of Management, Los Angeles, Calif., USA, and author of Don't Kill the Bosses! Escaping the Hierarchy Trap (Berrett-Koehler, 2001).
First, you need to understand who the team members are. “Most people who are new at leadership make an assumption that one size fits all,” Dr. Culbert says. “It's important to realize that the way to lead you is not the way to lead me.”
Even more importantly, as their leader, you must understand how you can empower them. “The most important question you can ask anyone when you are the leader is, ‘What do you need from me so that you can do your job more effectively?’” Dr. Culbert says. “Where most project leaders [fall down] is that they think they know the answer for an individual that they don't know well enough.”
Communication. Project managers who make the effort to understand their team members find the second crucial leadership skill—communication—far easier to attain, but one that requires lifelong learning. Communicating clearly and honestly enables you to work more effectively with the diverse audiences you interact with both inside and outside the organization. In an average day, you give direction to team members, collaborate with various stakeholders to solve problems and report to senior management on vision and progress. Those are all leadership activities that executives appreciate.
Part of the communication challenge for many project managers is their past: Trusted to deliver a project based on a technical or engineering background, project managers are used to being focused on the task at hand, not getting to know their team members or communicating results. Leadership training that helps them jump-start and then develop communication skills will help them lead successful projects consistently.
“If I had to give one piece of advice to project managers, it would center around communication with their team members and understanding how to communicate the status of the team upward,” Mr. DelGrosso says. “Because 85 to 90 percent of your job as a project manager really deals with communication. That is the one thing that would probably make the biggest difference in how projects ran.”
“IT'S IMPORTANT TO REALIZE THAT THE WAY TO LEAD YOU IS NOT THE WAY TO LEAD ME.”
Agility. Understanding the team and communicating effectively are the underpinnings to the third key leadership skill: the ability to respond and adjust to changing situations. “Project management is all about doing something that has never been done before,” Mr. Lake says. That means dealing with problems no one has had to deal with before, often in the context of project scope that isn't clearly defined.
“I once ran an 18-month, multimillion-pound project with a team of about 100 people,” Mr. Lake says. “When I picked up the project, it was just three paragraphs on one page of paper. If all you have a standard set of responses, you're in trouble, because at this level you're basically leading the development of something rather than just following a formula.”
In these situations, the project manager is leading the project, defining the business objectives and understanding what's needed to make it happen. A project manager who has taken leadership training is more likely to have the confidence and experience to handle complex scenarios and make smart decisions.
MOVING ON UP
While leadership training can help you flourish in your current job and further your career, the best training is the world won't translate into success unless you target the right type of coursework and apply what you learn to real-life situations.
“The effectiveness of training depends to a large extent on how well the training program is designed and whether it's based on a careful analysis of the job that a project manager fulfills for a particular organization,” Ms. Neider says. Ideally, that training will be based on actual problems and challenges faced by project managers in similar positions. It will also employ case studies and problem-solving.
But there's more to leadership training than just taking courses. “It begins with the courses, but it's really what happens after the class,” says Joanne Gumaer, project management facilitator and trainer at ILLINIAGQ Toronto, Ontario, Canada. “It's really applying it to your particular situation and learning from how you apply it over time where the growth really occurs.”
DO YOU HAVE STYLE?
Leadership styles can be categorized in a variety of ways, but one thing is certain: In a competitive, fast-paced marketplace, the stereotypical, authoritative boss who rules through fear has fallen by the wayside. Project managers should instead consider three typical leadership styles:
one Strategic Visionaries: Charismatic leaders who have excellent communication skills and the ability to motivate and inspire their people toward a common, compelling vision
two Relationship Builders: Emotional, supportive leaders who stress the importance of building strong bonds, creating harmonious team interactions and communicating with and having empathy for their team members
three Execution Gurus: Task-driven leaders who build a culture that thrives on completing projects and accomplishing goals, creating efficient teams and executing strategic plans.
Ms. Neider agrees: “It's unlikely that leadership training alone will help someone advance in an organization. However, if project managers use the tools they are exposed to and parlay such training into clear-cut organizational outcomes, advancement opportunities certainly could open up either inside the organization or outside.”
Leadership training for project managers can enhance the short- and long-term prospects of success for both you and your organization. You gain legitimacy as a leader and move up to more complex, rewarding projects. Organizations can realize return on their training investment by seeing projects completed faster, cheaper, and better, and by developing leadership from within.
“I believe strongly that if companies are going to see the realization of their strategy coming into focus, project leadership is key,” Mr. Gumaer says. “Projects execute the strategy. Leadership development drives the strategy. That affects the bottom line, shareholder value, and everything else.” PM
LEADERSHIP / 2006 / WWW.PMI.ORG
LEADERSHIP / 2006