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Sarah Coleman is coauthor of Project Leadership, a third edition that explores the interplay between leadership and project management. The 16-year-old edition that was the last was published was a book about project leadership.
Sarah was kind enough to talk with me about the impact a leader can make on a project.
Sarah, how can a leader influence the project?
There are many ways that the leader can impact the project. The top three ways I see the leader impacting the project are:
Establishing the culture, expected behavior and environment for the project.
Assisting the client, sponsor, governance committee, and client in managing the project. Also, evaluating the performance of the project team.
Establishing strong relationships, understanding influence, power bases and highlighting the benefits of the project to the organization’s strategic direction, will help build support and profile for the project.
This is a great list! How does that reflect in your book?
The book focuses on three areas that make a difference.
Vision and the Big Picture: Being commercially savvy and looking at a strategic picture for your company, their organization, and their organization.
Building key relationships: Developing organizational intelligence and networking within your organization and the client’s.
Communication and Engagement: Using these skills to market the project and increase its credibility to gain support, awareness, and commitment.
What are your top three tips for project managers who want to be more involved in their projects’ leadership?
First, define what “leadership” is for your organization. What are the behaviors and abilities that your organization values? This is also a good place to start: how does project leadership differ from other leadership roles?
Second, find a coach/mentor/sponsor/role model to help you identify and start to demonstrate good leadership capabilities and behaviors.
Third, get out of your comfort zone and volunteer for the roles/experiences/secondments which will expose you to different ways of doing things and provide different insights.
These will increase self-awareness, help you identify your leadership strengths, help you understand how others impact you, and allow for you to see things from a new perspective.
Thanks! What do you think business leaders should do differently in regards to project leadership?
Many project managers have discovered that they struggle with the concept of and practice of leadership. Most of us have risen through the ranks to become technical specialists by learning, using, and becoming experts in project technical skills.
We are being asked to assume leadership roles as project leaders with little to no experience in managing cross-organizational teams and little to no knowledge of leadership and the range of capabilities required to do it well.
While technical knowledge is important, it is not enough. People skills are what will allow you to lead projects within the larger organization.
Furthermore, the value of personnel in projects is not just a function their knowledge or experience; it is also how well they work together with a team, often across multiple geographies, with people they may never see, and with diverse stakeholders. It is also how they problem-solve, and how they share their knowledge to the benefit the project team.
This means that project managers must have a strong leadership ability.
Therefore, I believe business leaders should look at how P3M can be used within their companies to achieve their goals.