In my role as HR executive, I currently have the privilege of supporting multiple teams with deliverables consisting of bringing projects to conclusion on time and on budget. Sound familiar? The nature of their work is such that these teams rely heavily on project management methodology and their contributions impact our organization across the board in many ways.
The past few months saw us deal with a few bumps in the road, and I became actively involved in supporting the removal of those bumps while minimizing the risk of their undesired reappearance. Reflecting on the past few months, I have been wondering if and how project management and leadership fit together. Several conversations later, I have drawn a few conclusions that seem to cascade from each other:
- Leadership and project management are not mutually exclusive disciplines, quite the contrary.Project management brings wonderful order and discipline that can enable us to achieve just about anything we wish within a set timeframe and given specific resources. Adopting the principles of project management means you have a plan, you know how you’ll get there from here, and how you intend to minimize the risks along the way. That’s great, but that’s not enough. As you proceed, you’ll quickly realize that as a PM, you will need “your A game” when it comes to interacting with others, creating buy-in for the goals, engaging people, and taking their concerns into consideration. It so happens that those skills are at the core of leadership and I submit that without them you will end up with unexplainable speed bumps and roadblocks despite a perfect project plan. In my view, and based on many experiences (not always pleasant ones) leadership skills are essential to the successful delivery of projects, they complement the PM methodology.
- Whether in the “for profit” or “not for profit sector”, project management requires leadership skills.This second truth builds on the first and is also based on personal experience. Engaging stakeholders is engaging stakeholders. Whether you are dealing with funders or investors, board members, internal or external customers, at the end of the day we are talking about a group of human beings attempting to achieve outcomes that are satisfactory to a diverse audience. As much as the approach may have different nuances, the only way to get there from here is to rally and engage multiple stakeholders. Engaging others requires leadership.
- Without a vision, you’re hooped!
The ability to articulate a compelling vision of a desirable outcome is what will enable everyone to stay focused, especially in face of adversity. A key differentiator of leadership is that very ability to create a compelling vision. So, your job as a leader is to imagine the future and envision the possibilities. It is much broader then coming up with a plan, something that the PM methodology will enable you to ace. Whether you are accountable for an entire project or for part of it, your role is to inspire others to follow your vision and to contribute to its realization.
Regardless of the skills and knowledge each of us brings to the proverbial table, we seldom achieve big things single handedly. This statement certainly applies to project management. In a recent conversation with a seasoned project manager that was facing challenges I suggested to him that no amount of knowledge or abilities could replace the value of the ability to connect with individuals through conversation and face-to-face interactions. Leadership is a dialogue, not a monologue.
In conclusion, my recommendation to the fearless and talented project managers out there is as follow:
Be a leader first, and then be a project manager.