Of might and men


by Col. Dionysios Anninos


Col. Dionysios Anninos is senior engineering commander responsible for the reconstruction efforts of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Gulf Region District, Baghdad, Iraq. The program consists of more than 300 projects valued at more than US$2 billion, spanning such sectors as security, transportation, communications, health, education and infrastructure.

A U.S. Army Corps of Engineers colonel shares what it takes to get the job done as he and his team rebuild Iraq.

Whether you're operating a combat theater or a civilian construction site, project delivery is a complex business executed in an endlessly changing environment.

Over time, processes and Knowledge Areas have evolved to bring structure to the delivery of projects. Effective leaders obviously need to balance cost, schedule and quality, but they must build the right team, remain agile and have confidence in their actions.

In my extensive project management experience in the U.S. military, I've discovered unique friction points, cultural nuances and atmospheric challenges to overcome. At the same time, I've encountered many traditional issues that rear their heads particularly in times of urgent deadlines and constrained resources.

Along the way, I've identified three aspects of project management leadership required to synchronize any project delivery effort:


Project managers must start by setting the right tone and attitude among team members, and then ensure that everyone understands these aspects of the project inside and out:

  • What the stakeholders want
  • When they need it
  • What they can afford
  • What they can sustain
  • What level of quality they will accept

A project manager can't just guess, nor can a project team react to situations with incomplete answers to these questions.


Perhaps most important, each team member must have a clearly defined role with a set of responsibilities—and be empowered to carry them out. Without these parameters, the team will not achieve its fullest potential, and individuals will act as individuals, attempting to maximize their own achievements versus optimizing the group's success.

A leader must take these initial steps in “norming” the team, the stage of group development when members focus on collaboration. You must get the best out of others while giving the best of yourself.

I typically ask my teammates these tough questions:

  • Is this the best we can do?
  • Is there another solution?
  • What have we not thought of?
  • Are we challenging all the assumptions?
  • What are the alternatives and associated risks?

The team's response to these questions should not be suppressed or censored. I firmly believe the gates of opportunity for solutions will swing open with the simple acceptance of ideas, along with the skills and knowledge possessed by each team member. Applying these team-building skills will result in teams that anticipate potential friction points and take action to solve problems at lower levels while reducing the queue of lingering problems.


With the team in place, success is often a matter of managing multiple priorities and changes to requirements and conditions while achieving the right level of quality. A true leader will embrace change by listening, monitoring atmospherics, being proactive and consistently processing new information.

Be engaged, but don't bog down communication with too much technical jargon. Focusing on change itself does not constitute agility—agility means an early and continuous focus on customers' needs, desires and required end-state.

To constantly monitor the schedule, budget, safety, quality and stakeholder concerns, I rate each category, giving it a green, amber or red status based on an established set of metrics.


Leaders must have the forethought and confidence to engage at the right place and right moment. The best way to achieve this is for project managers to build intelligence on the project, make atmospheric assessments and engage stakeholders.

Over time, I've learned there are two key decisive points on any project when the leader must provide intensive oversight to set the conditions for successful delivery. The first is early in the planning, acquisition and design phase, when you lay the foundation for everything that's to come. The other is when the project reaches the “red zone”—when it's 85 percent or more complete—and tends to lose forward momentum.

Customers and stakeholders must be made aware of cost, time and quality implications throughout all phases of a project, though. Accept appropriate trade-offs and offer recommendations for timely decisions to keep the project moving forward. It is a project manager's job to effectively drive actions that will avoid increases in cost, schedule and/or compromises in quality. For example, you might decide to order long-lead mechanical systems early from a vendor so that the budget and schedule are not compromised.

As former U.S. President Harry S. Truman famously said: “The buck stops here.” When it comes to project management, the buck stops—and starts—with a project manager's leadership capabilities. We have to create the right passion, attitude, atmosphere and expertise within our teams to anticipate and deliver excellence every day. To accomplish this, we must be team builders who are both flexible and assertive. Embracing these attributes will allow us to deliver the timely, high-quality and cost-effective projects our sponsors demand. PM




Related Content

  • Project Management Journal

    Servant Leadership and Project Success member content locked

    By Nauman, Shazia | Musawir, Ata Ul | Malik, Sania Zahra | Munir, Hina Employing self-determination and social identification theories, we examined how servant leadership, which focuses on employees’ needs, influences project success.

  • Project Management Journal

    How Servant Leadership Drives Project Team Performance Through Collaborative Culture and Knowledge Sharing member content locked

    By Nauman, Shazia | Bhatti, Sabeen Hussain | Imam, Hassan | Khan, Mohammad Saud This research compared how two distinct mediating mechanisms influence the servant leadership–project team performance relationship.

  • Project Management Journal

    The Effect of Political Skill on Relationship Quality in Construction Projects member content locked

    By Wang, Dedong | Liu, Yang This study aims to investigate the relationship among political skill, cooperative conflict management styles, and relationship quality.

  • Project Management Journal

    How Power Influences Behavior in Projects member content locked

    By Wynn, Conor | Smith, Liam | Killen, Catherine Taking a case-study approach, we traced the thoughts of project managers subject to power, particularly those who resisted.