Aspects of good project leadership

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Project Leadership

Increasingly, the role of the Project Manager moves from a command and control manager to a leader and enabler.   This role change hopefully enables the team and customer to arrive at better solutions.  Organisations want to use the best approach along with the top set of tools and methods to achieve business goals.  The role of leadership has never been more important in projects. But from the perspective of a project what attributes and skills should you expect to see in effective Project management?  What makes good project leadership?

Technical and Process skills

When considering these skills, we should include project management process; as well as skills and knowledge from the industry or sector. Project management technical skills are those hard skills associated with driving and controlling a project.  Skills like project planning, controlling a budget, tracking the project, risk management and handling issues.  The project control elements can all be considered as the mechanistic administration. Industry and sector skills usually require knowledge and experience of working in that industry.

The project manager obviously needs to have solid project management skills.  You would expect all but the most junior project managers to have a reasonable grasp in this area.  Industry skills are very useful to a project manager in understanding how the project may be best driven. But in environments where you work with technical experts or work in a more agile manner many of the technical skills needed to deliver the project will be vested in the project team. Some may even consider having a project manager who is too technically skilled in their sector might be detrimental.  High levels of technical skill can be a threat to highly experienced individuals in agile teams.

Having said this, technical understanding is always a useful thing for project managers.  The ability to question the direction and deliverable design Is a skill that will always stand putting managers in good stead.  Balancing the involvement in technical matters to best serve the situation can help encourage project teams.

People skills

People skills are important for solid leadership in any setting. This is no less true of project management, where being able to handle the team is key to results. The project management role continues to need project managers to facilitate their team and successfully engage with stakeholders. Dealing with all sorts of individuals from senior executives, highly knowledgeable team members, and customers of all types. Project managers need to understand and empathise with views of many different parties. Emotional intelligence and the ability to arbitrate awkward situations is essential to driving projects towards success.

Project managers need to help motivate others. Enabling the team to deliver to its best and ensuring the team has all the right tools and facilities for them to carry out their job.  Project managers need to be able to listen to others and act in the best interest of the team and the project. Stakeholder engagement means project managers need to listen and communicate effectively with all those who are impacted by the project. People skills are more difficult than technical skills.  Technical skills can be learnt easily.

As well as empathising and listening to others, good project managers should engender trust. They should be diplomatic and able to negotiate solutions. But at the same time motivate the team to better outcomes. The people skills required in project management become a more complex blend as project management itself matures.


Business Skills

Project managers also need some solid business skills or business awareness. Understanding the context in which a project sits and able to see the bigger picture. This goes hand in hand with understanding how the project may be adjusted to increase benefit. Ideally project managers should understand the project context and where it fits into the wider organisation. Understanding business strategy helps project managers work more closely with executives and project sponsors.  This allows projects to flex more quickly and adapt to changing requirements.  


Summarising Good Project Leadership

Good project leadership comes from a blend of all three skill areas. Each project manager will have a different set of strengths and weaknesses. To be successful in leading projects consistently they must have a blend of skills across all aspects of leadership.   Ideal project leadership will balance skills and needs to deliver the best solutions.

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