Project Leadership for Project Management

Leaders play a critical role in setting the conditions for a team to successfully manage a project.  If you focus on the following four key roles you can play on a project as the project leader, you’ll dramatically improve the odds of project success.  More important, you’ll create a culture where your team members trust you and know you’re doing everything you can to help them succeed.

In creating the right culture, you’ll boost morale, reduce turnover, improve productivity, and generally have a team that wins more often.  So here are four things you need to focus on as a leader to create an environment for project success.

Define Success

It’s abundantly clear leaders must be involved in defining a project’s scope. They’re the ones who need to be saying, “Here is the box we are going to operate in, and here are the metrics I am going to define success on.” If it’s not measurable, you are just wasting your time.

We all know measurements must be specific, but we pay lip service to that notion and we put softer measures in. As a leader, you have to draw that line and say, “Here’s what I am going to judge success by.” Leaders have to set that direction and set the bar. Failing to do so guarantees project failure because there’s no way to measure success.

Procure Resources

Leaders must be involved in the negotiation for resources. It’s kind of unfair to say to your team, “Here is a project, and we want you to go improve this process. I know you don’t have resources you need, so go find them on your own.” Fail. Procuring those resources is your job as the leader.

It’s your job to give your team everything they need to be successful, and sometimes that means you are going out and arguing for budget. Sometimes you are negotiating with other business units for people on their team or folks who would participate part-time on the project.

Your job is to procure those resources. To do so effectively, you have to listen to your team when they tell you what they need because they are going to be closer to the reality of what’s needed. Your job is simply to go get them everything they need to be successful.

Dress up Like a Fire Fighter

Once a project is under way, a leader’s job includes firefighting and change management. Invariably, as people are working on a project, they are going to start drawing conclusions about what’s “broken” or they are going to be making recommendations that will be controversial. The leader’s job is to be there and be present to help your team advocate for those changes or recommendations (of course, only once the team has explained them to you and you are comfortable with them).

It’s unfair to send your team into the VP of a different business unit where they’re making a recommendation on why that VP’s process is busted or recommending big changes in that VP’s area. Imagine you tell your team, “Just go make your big difficult recommendations to that VP” but you aren’t personally there to support them. That’s completely unfair because they are going to get blown out of the water or ripped apart when that VP realizes the magnitude of the change your team might be recommending.

When you as a leader fail to fight fires shoulder to shoulder with your team, you put the project at risk and you make your people look bad. You have got to be there to back their play.

Sing Their Praises

When the project ends, your job as a leader is to be there when they are successful and make sure people know about it. Ensure key stakeholders in the organization know the people on your team have been successful. Note: I did not say make sure stakeholders know you are successful. Let your work speak for itself, but you have to speak for your team. It’s a nuanced difference, but it matters.

When you let the rest of the organization know about the success and impact your team has had, you’re building that trust with the members of your team. They know you’ve got their back. They know their hard work is recognized, valued, and rewarded. They know you’ll do everything you can to help them be successful. Honestly, if you’re doing all those things as a leader, there’s not much more they can ask for.

Mike Figliuolo is the founder and managing director of thoughtLEADERS, LLC. He is a West Point graduate, Army veteran, and has worked in strategic and executive communications for several large corporations and as a consultant for McKinsey & Co. Reprinted with permission, with style edits for this publication. 

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