All project managers know – or at least certainly should be aware – that the success or failure of the project basically falls on their shoulders. They may not be able to do much about its failure – or even its success – directly, but the overall project leadership responsibilities are definitely theirs. It is the PM who will be called into the CEO’s office for a major project catastrophe. You may not always get lots of accolades, but you will be held accountable…it’s what we all signed up for (willingly or not).
Leadership is a different story. It’s born or learned…depending on who you talk to or what day of the week it is. I think many are born leaders and we improve through experience and learning. And I think some learn how to get there – especially if they are dedicated to their profession and really want to be the ‘take charge’ point person on project engagements. For the project manager to truly be successful, his leadership skills need to be well honed and he needs to be able to organize his troops. And by troops, of course, I mean the project team.
Now, how does the project manager gain the respect, dedication, and admiration of his project team? How does he ensure that his team will stick with him through thick and thin, stand behind his decisions when everything is on the line, and not try to leave him hanging out to dry when he needs them the most?
From my experience, there are four actions or steps that the project manager must take in order to ensure his team will follow him and that he will have the respect and trust of those under his direction. These four actions or ways of conduct define the true project leader and they will certainly help a PM achieve success more often than not – with his team and his customer.
1. Take Responsibility
Your project team is watching your every move – just like your small children are watching you as they grow up. If you want obedience, high moral values, high performance and respect – you will need to show it through your actions and those actions need to be setting a pretty high bar on a daily basis. Bottom line – care about what you’re doing and about who you are leading.
If you’re in front of the customer and trying to explain why the data integration piece is taking four weeks longer than planned. Do you:
- Blame an inexperienced data integration specialist?
- Blame the product you’re trying to implement as part of the solution?
- Blame it on the customer’s legacy data?
- Apologize and explain the unforeseen complications of the customer data and explain that you should have planned for more data prep up front?
If you answered with the fourth one, you just gained a huge amount of respect from your team members and probably even the customer because you didn’t point fingers. And really…any of the other answers would make you and your team look ill-prepared and lacking professionalism and experience.
As the PM, you’re expected to take some hits that won’t necessarily reflect on you personally. And this is one of them. But if you had just thrown your data integration specialist under the bus, you would have lost team respect, probably lost the data integration specialist from the team (costing you more time for onboarding), and probably lost some customer respect as well.
Take responsibility for failures and setbacks – just as a good PM takes the blame for the project, the CIO for IT, and any good manager leader or executive does for the organization or initiative they are leading, own the setbacks and problems. Your team will respect you and follow you anywhere.
2. Be the Expert
Whether you are the expert or not, you need to make sure that you are perceived that way whenever possible. That doesn’t mean you need to always have the answer. It’s ok to say, “I don’t know.” All good leaders do that. But find out the answer and come back with it tomorrow. You don’t have to be the top expert and you’ll never have the same technical knowledge that your highly technical team will have on IT projects. But you need to know a little bit about a lot of things – and keep learning. And, if you have to, do your best to ‘fake it till you make it.’
Always remain confident and in charge – even in the face of danger and failure. Even when you’re really just winging it. As long as your team sees you as the leader and sees that you have a plan or at least an idea of a course of action in the face of chaos, then they will respect you and follow you. Don’t flake on your team and never disappear when faced with real issues or project troubles. The PM that has a tendency to do that will lose them very quickly if you do and you’ll a very hard time regaining their trust and following.
In Part 2, we will look at two more key responsibilities of the project manager in their leadership role in each engagement they are overseeing.