What Project Managers Really Need To Know About Leadership

Martin WebsterThis guest posting is by Martin Webster, The Lazy Leader.
Google can be used to search for project management training. There are many courses. Many of these courses are related to agile project management, MSP(r), PRINCE2(r), and APMP (r).
They all have one thing in common: they all focus on project management accreditation, project planning, risk management, reporting progress, and controlling change. They also emphasize managing and escalating issues. All of these skills are important. These are essential skills for a competent project manager.
They are not a guarantee of success.
Project leadership
It is not their qualifications that make me think about successful project managers I have worked with. It is their attitude and how they behave that matters. Each project manager has their own leadership qualities. Let’s take, for instance:
Motivation
enthusiasm
tenacity
Integrity
Leadership
Communication
Action is key.

Here’s why.
It is hard to manage projects
It can be difficult to manage projects. It is difficult to manage projects. Tensions increase and results are questioned. People start acting unpredictable. Some will take the blame, others will create barriers… it is impossible for anyone to trust them to keep their integrity.
The project manager must keep the team cohesive, manage conflict and focus on the solution. A good project plan and risk management plan are helpful, but it is the project leader who keeps the team on track.
Let me explain …
The Balcony and the Dance Floor
The project manager must balance the overall project goals, the complexity of each task, and risk, with the organizational context. The project manager can move between the balcony and the dance floor.
In the 1990s, Ronald Heifetz introduced the concept of a dance floor. It reminds us to look beyond the tasks of managing projects to identify patterns or causes that can affect project performance.
Before trying to solve a problem, the project manager must first understand its causes. This is the difference between a deep understanding of project risks and tasks, and an awareness and appreciation of the changing environment and how it changes over time.
Consider, for instance, how can a manager of a team keep performance information secret? What should you do? Is it not surprising that people withhold information to avoid repercussions if they are prone losing their temper or making unreasonable demands. What happens if someone makes a mistake?
It is your responsibility to find a solution when you disagree or take blame.
Now, get on the balcony.
You need to understand what is happening. Projects can look very different from the balcony. There are ways to deal poorly with results. But not on the dance floor.
Be there to provide direction and support, as well as to help understand what is going on. Project leaders can create the right conditions to solve these problems. Only then can they use their project management skills to plan for the consequences of delayed or poor results.
About the Author: Martin Webster is a managing solution architect at a large UK public sector organization. He has more than 20 years of experience in project delivery, and business transformation. He works with senior executives to solve problems in business. Martin writes often about leadership, project management, business change, and other topics.
This article was published for the first time on this website in 2014.