It’s my pleasure to bring you Jack Maher, one of our thoughtLEADERS instructors, for today’s post on Project Leadership. Here’s Jack:
Imagine walking into work and being accosted by an excited colleague or manager first thing in the morning. They eagerly say “I need you to do something for me. You gotta get this new consumer oriented e-commerce website up and running, integrated into our back-office systems, and it has to be as reliable as Amazon by Christmas! Did I mention that the vendor says it might not work? Or that the project failed the last time (or two)?”
After your shock subsides, you ask yourself the question “Do you need a project manager or a project leader?”
What’s the difference and how do you know what you need? Hiring a project manager is tough enough, but if you need a project leader, that’s an even more difficult creature to find. Let’s go on a safari and see if we can find this beast.
Project managers are adept at planning, monitoring, and reporting work to be done and completed. Project managers manage the basic three constraints of scope, time and cost. They are masters of metrics and proving value. Some are spectacular at cajoling and prodding project teams to complete assigned tasks on time and at or under budget. The real key to a good project manager is the ability to manage opposing constraints and deliver a planned solution. Unfortunately, a project manager isn’t enough in certain situations. Sometimes you need the mega-PM. You need a project leader.
What is a project leader, and what’s the big deal?
Leaders differ from managers in a few very clear ways, but the most dramatic difference is how they approach “opportunities.” Here’s a classic example: you have a project that has been tapped for execution. You’ve defined what you need, and senior management has determined specifically what is needed, how much funding is available, and when it must be delivered. A project manager will quickly point out that you’ve painted an unrealistic picture, that you cannot hold all three constraints firm and expect a successful outcome. Something must give. After all, that is what PM’s are good at – managing the three legs of that stool.
But you don’t have that luxury this time. The minimum feature set has been established and ratified by users and management alike. The budget was set last fall and Finance has made it clear that you’d better use it now or lose it (forget about getting another dime!). Oh, and the project must be released in time for the mass marketing campaign that is at the printer’s shop already. There will be no missing that deadline!
A sane Project Manager might pass on this “opportunity.” A Project Leader looks at this situation a bit differently. Leaders focus on “the mission” and what it will take to make it happen. The PM will dig into the proposed solution, the budget, and the deliverables. Then the negotiations begin! A Project Leader will follow a similar path, until the negotiations are complete. Then the difference becomes apparent. A Project Leader will embrace the situation and begin to figure out how to make it work (as Mike previously covered in Don’t Bring Problems – Bring Solutions).
But you may have to dig a little deeper to determine if you have an optimistic or unrealistic view of the world. You’ll find indicators of leadership emerge through interactions with the stakeholders and those responsible for delivering the goods. Leaders excel at building teams and then getting more from the team than anyone would expect (especially those on the team).
Think back among the bosses, managers, and leaders you’ve encountered to date. The leaders and managers probably sort out into very clear categories. Do you see consistent behavioral patterns? You probably find yourself drawn to the leaders, who usually have a charisma that brings people together and elicits higher levels of performance. These teams almost always have a sense of “self” and purpose. The engagement level of these teams drives their own empowerment and above average performance.
I encourage you to be that leader (maybe you should even take a read of The Leadership Principles for a few good tips on how to do just that). Look for the opportunities and the ways to get things done rather than relying on the crutches of “constraints” and “that’s not possible.” Push the thinking from the front of the pack. Don’t manage. Lead.
– Jack Maher at thoughtLEADERS, LLC
About Jack: As the principal of a hands-on project management consulting practice as well as the owner of a classic cars restoration and hot rod shop, Jack manages a variety of projects on a daily basis. His application of project management principles rooted in formal education and his breadth of experience (ranging from delivering fully functional military and commercial operations, business process re-engineering, green-field development, and troubled/complex project rescue) enable him to deliver on the thoughtLEADERS promise of delivering real experience versus simply a classroom experience. Jack is a Senior Instructor on the thoughtLEADERS team.