Why Projects Succeed: Project Leadership Part 3–Becoming a Project Leader vol 1

Why Projects Succeed is a blog series in which Slalom Business Architect Roger Kastner sheds light on key factors behind the art and science of successful project management and invites readers to discuss how they apply across different environments.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

Slalom Consultant Roger Kastner

Roger Kastner is a Business Architect with Slalom Consulting who is passionate about raising the caliber of project leadership within organizations to maximize the value of projects

“Leaders aren’t born, they are made. And they are made just like anything else, through hard work. And that’s the price we’ll have to pay to achieve that goal, or any goal.”
–Vince Lombardi

In the first two posts in this series on Project Leadership, Part 1 and Part 2, I define the principles of Project Leadership and highlighted how these principles make for great Project Leaders. In the next two posts in the series, I want to provide guidance for how good Project Managers can become great Project Leaders. But first, let’s recap the principles of leadership:

Project Leadership Principles

  1. Advocating a Vision–Providing clarity of goals that are compelling to the team, especially when the direction is unclear, is a key function of leadership primarily because no one else is doing this.
  2. Setting Expectations–For Individuals to be successfully contributing to the team goal, and to fairly be held accountable, they need to be provided clear expectations, understand the limits of those expectations, and be aware of the support available for them to deliver on the expectations of them.
  3. Building Trust–Trust is the lifeblood of healthy teamwork and positive, fulfilling relationships that result in a level of efficiency and productivity only experienced by great teams.
  4. Fostering Joint Accountability–When individuals on a team hold each other accountable in a productive way, behavioral changes occur that strengthen the team dynamic and increase productivity, not tear it down in a defensive game of blamestorming.
  5. Giving Recognition–This is the process of identifying and praising individuals for their contributions to the team’s and their own goals, which creates focus on mutually beneficial relationships while driving the best from each team member.
  6. Embracing Change–Leaders are there to either reinforce a prior change by optimizing performance from existing people and processes, or they are driving a team to a new reality. In order to achieve either, the leader not only needs to advocate the vision for change, but also needs to know how to execute a framework and tools for producing change in individuals, teams, processes, and systems.

In my experience, I have found the building blocks of leadership to be quite simple to articulate; however the challenge is incorporating these principles into part of a Project Manager’s professional practice. Just like beauty, it can be easy to spot, but hard to emulate.

I define a successful Project Manager is someone who:

  • Succinctly identifies stakeholder interests and expectations and appropriately drives the commitment management process (setting, managing, and delivering of expectations);
  • Pushes the team to deliver on scope, schedule, and budget expectations;
  • Effectively marshals the team efforts to triage and course correct when the project is knocked sideways;
  • Daily fosters team work and accountability; and
  • Positively influences and guides the project to a successful and satisfactory conclusion.

By this definition, a successful Project Manager has some innate leadership traits, or is extremely lucky. Assuming it’s the former, to become great Project Leaders, someone who inspires others to achieve great things and not just pushes them to the finish line, successful Project Managers need to ignite their booster rockets. The fuel they need to do this has three parts: awareness, intention, and focus. Since I’ve covered the principles above, color yourself aware. Below, let’s discuss intention, and next time we’ll talk about the focus a Project Manager needs to have when becoming a Project Leader.

Be Intentional

“The more I practice, the luckier I become.”
–Arnold Palmer

Excellence is achieved through the following combination: a good plan, great preparation, solid execution, and a few things going right at crucial moments (aka a lucky break or two). While Project Leaders cannot create lucky breaks, they can be intentional in how they plan and prepare. Does this mean that Project Leaders create leadership moments? Yes, yes it does, both large and small moments that build upon the leadership principles.

To become a Leader, the Project Manager must be intentional about creating leadership moments. These are mostly to be small moments early in the project when typical pressures focus on “starting work” and “getting busy”. Planning and preparation are rarely seen as part of the “doing” of work, but every great achievement started with a good plan.

Here are some examples of small moments a Project Leader will intentionally perform as part of their preparations for success:

  • Identifying team member and stakeholder interests–aligning interests with objectives enables the Leader to articulate a vision, provide meaningful recognition
  • Stating intent early in projects–when aligns with demonstrated integrity, capabilities, and results, stating intent accelerates trust
  • Creating awareness of expectations–working with key stakeholders and team members to explicitly identify and clearly articulate expectations which is the building block for a culture of accountability
  • Softening the target–incorporating Organizational Change Management principles to ensure adoption of the planned change resulting from the product of the project

Another way Project Leaders can be intentional is in the choosing of the tasks and projects that they focus their energies on. This is not just about “picking your battles,” (however that is part of it), this concept is about leaders being intentional about where they spend their energies and how to focus on their strengths, and “partnering” with others on those tasks or projects that are not in their wheelhouse.

A simple example of this would be meeting notes. No one will disagree that documenting issues, action items, and decisions should be a requirement of all meetings; however, not everyone likes or is good at this, and nowhere is it written in stone that the Project Manager has to take on this responsibility. The task can be delegated to another individual or it can be shared amongst the regular meeting attendees.

For a more significant example, I draw upon the experience a colleague of mine had. She had found herself drowning in a sea of unmet expectations and an ever-increasing action item list and knew something had to change. She loved the role she picked for herself, but after a couple of months, she thought she might not be up for the responsibilities of the position because she wasn’t getting everything done. In fact, she was ready to quit, lick her wounds, and start again a couple rungs lower in the organization.

But she was fortunate to have a manager who recognized the symptoms and could prescribe the treatment. The manager informed my colleague that she had “Big Eye-itis,” a self-inflicted injury a lot of leaders incur when they sign-up for too much work in multiple areas with conflicting priorities and not enough hours in the day. The treatment: build and complete a matrix (we are consultants, right?) with the following columns:

Column Description
Tasks/Responsibilities  Identify tasks or responsibilities you had for the last month. You can choose how granular you want to be here.
Planned % of Time Indicate how much time you plan for this task or responsibility for the last month.
Actual % of Time Indicate how much time you spent on this task or responsibility for the last month.
Personal Goal Rank Indicate how important the task is to you and your personal/career goals. If you don’t have personal/career goals–you need to determine what your goals are before you can be intentional about achieving them.
Business Goal Rank Indicate how important the task is to your business goals or your company’s goals?
I Love/Loathe It Indicate if you truly enjoy performing the task or if you detest the task.
Action Plan Based on your analysis, indicate your steps to address any issues.

The most important column: Love and Loathe designation. This is a concept that Marcus Buckingham has championed in his body of work on “strengths” (Now, Discover Your Strengths, The One Thing You Need To Know, and several others); that those tasks that invigorate us, give us energy, and we jump to do them are what he calls “strengths.” In his definition, “strengths” are not necessarily what we “are good at.” In contrast, there are activities we might be recognized as being good at, or even excel at, but they drain us and we cringe at them when we see them on the To Do list. Mr. Buckingham would call these “weaknesses” because, like Kryptonite for Superman, they exhaust our energies and our superpowers.

Marcus Buckingham is quick to point out that you will never remove all of the activities that “drain you” from your list; however, the goal is to move these off your list as quickly as possible, and that’s what leaders do, in three ways: eliminate, delegate, or partner. If the task does not generate value and is not required, eliminate it. If the task is important (high on business goal, does generate value or is required), then delegate the work or partner with someone for whom the tasks is one of their “strengths.”

The responses in the additional columns are informative too:

  • Personal vs. Business Goals– if there is a disconnect between personal and business goals, then the individual should have a discussion with their manager to reset expectations or possible find a better fitting role.
  • Planned vs. Actual–disconnects identified here help the individual adjust up or down the appropriate amount of focus on these activities.

After completing the matrix, it was quickly obvious to my colleague what she needed to do and which activities she needed more of to achieve a higher sense of accomplishment and achievement, and thus be a more effective leader, and those activities that she had to be intentional about removing from her plate. All leaders to be effective need to figure out how to balance priorities and ensure that their best effort is put in the areas of highest impact. This matrix proved to be extremely valuable for my colleague. After executing her actions identified from the matrix, she has gone on to deliver new levels of leadership within her organization with greater impact than was possible if she still had all those “weaknesses” hanging on her task list.

Awareness of the leadership principles are not enough, the Project Leader will take proactive steps to build and cultivate these throughout the project but especially at the beginning of the project. The Project Leader will have mapped out a plan not only for the project, but also for how they will intentionally set up the moments that enable leadership when leadership matters most.

Project Managers must be intentional about their engagements with team members and create the moments that enable them to become Project Leaders. These are not grand gestures, like George C. Scott in front of the American Flag in Patton, but instead small moments at the beginning of a project. Becoming a Project Leader is a daily commitment to serve the people on your team, in the ranks of stakeholders, and the target audience for the project. Join us next time when we’ll cover the right focus a Project Manager must have when attempting to become a Project Leader, because awareness of the principles and being intentional about your approach is not enough.

Join me next time when I highlight the second approach I recommend for becoming a Project Leader: focusing on Followership instead of Leadership.

What do you think?
Would love to hear what you think about Leadership and whether you agree or not on its significance to successfully managing projects. Additionally, if you have any tips or tricks you want to share, please join the conversation and post a comment.

Slalom Consulting’s Seattle office Slalom Consulting's Project & Program Management focus
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About Roger Kastner
As a member of the Organizational Effectiveness practice at Slalom Consulting, I'm excited to share my perspectives and experiences with Change and Project Management to help clients and practitioners achieve their goals and objectives.

4 Responses to Why Projects Succeed: Project Leadership Part 3–Becoming a Project Leader vol 1

  1. Pingback: Why Projects Succeed: Project Leadership Part 4–Becoming a Project Leader vol 2 « The Slalom Blog

  2. Pingback: Why Projects Succeed: Project Leadership Part 2 « The Slalom Blog

  3. Pingback: Leadership Thought #228 – Five Reasons Why Things Don’t Get Done « Ed Robinson's Blog

  4. Pingback: Assignment Help Blog | Priority Matrix | Project Management Assignment Help | Online Assignment help | Locus RAGS

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