The fundamentals of leadership in project management

April 11, 2019 By

leadership in project management

If you’re reading this, chances are that you are a project manager or are looking to become one in the future. You would definitely want to know then, if you have what it takes to go from being a good manager to a great project leader.

After all, project management is a field that sees the influence leaders have on teamwork and on hitting set targets.And it’s no small task to manage a diverse workforce composition, skills and project work packages, requiring project leaders to have a smattering of business, technical and people skills.

Project management and leadership go hand-in-hand. For one, you need a high-level view of work and people in order to determine how resources are shared between tasks, if the right priorities are getting the attention needed and how accurate your original cost and effort estimates were. Let us look at how a project leader’s role has evolved in recent years, and the project leadership skills you’re going to need when you’re in the running for the position.

The project leader’s role in managing projects

As a project leader, you are in charge of project activities and play a pivotal role in ensuring each member in a team are contributing and adding value to the project. This would require you to be familiar with team management, data reconciliation and time-tracking.

In order to be more closely involved, though, you should be ready to roll up your sleeves and do some of the more complex, time or unpleasant tasks yourself. Not only does it remind teams to be at their best during the project’s run-time but also lets them reach you quickly in case they’re stuck or falling behind. Here are a few areas that affirm your own fit when you take on the role of a project leader for your business-

1. Project estimation

Once a project is deemed a strategic fit with business goals, the next step taken by a project leader is to estimate its costs, efforts, resources, time, benefits and even potential risks.

After each activity and resource is assigned a financial unit, the project spend can be finalized. And only then can you go ahead and request for the right resources, assemble teams and brief them on the project management plan.

Besides outlining the project’s goals and deliverables, a project leader is expected to ensure effort investments are optimal for every project. That is, no competent staff is benched when critical projects come in or are stretched thinly on several projects. They would also have to estimate the percentage of skills and their availability for the location of the project prior to finalizing deployments.

2. Team assembly

To quote HBR, teams are the engine driving projects forward. And assembling teams require project leaders to be proficient at understanding the internal team dynamics.

Besides ensuring everyone gets a fair chance to play to their strengths, a key project leadership skill lies in facilitating healthy dollops of team collaboration.

It may not be that obvious in the beginning but once the project is underway, it’s easy to determine if everyone is pitching in. For one, there’s a direct connection between the efforts invested by your members and the quality of work. While some members may finish work ahead of schedule or on time, others still might be catching up. This is why the makeup of your team matters. It lets you determine if your staff are truly supportive of each other during a crunch and if they’re wholly committed to the work in question.

3. Plan projects strategically

The crux of advanced project management and strategic leadership lies in scoping out a project. While no one would take up a project that poses no benefit whatsoever, the frequency of scope change can either reduce or increase the benefits of doing a particular project.

A popular project leadership skill lies in striking a balance between seeking fresh challenges and thinking along the lines of long-term benefits. This is why seasoned leaders plan a project portfolio strategically. The process involves identifying volatile shifts in demand and acquiring a scalable capacity for it.

Project leaders would have to brace themselves for digital transformations by fixing the skills gap present today before it impacts both your teams’ relevance and the future of work. With a ready and able workforce, your project plan gets more leverage with the strategic usage of both human resources and technical capabilities.

4. Track milestone delivery

Traditional methods of managing projects are being swapped in favor of agile delivery. And the biggest advantage so far has been in how visible a project’s progress is.

Rather than having to wait till the very end to spot and fix errors with a backtrace, the evolution in the role of a project leader has enabled them to actively track the milestones reached against each release within a project.

In fact, the tools today incorporate a module for milestone tracking such that team-based views reflect multiple workflows and goals hit so far, irrespective of achieving them early, on time or late. In this manner, everyone is aware of the priorities of pending tasks and the skills needed to be released.

5. Maintain project health

The reason a project’s health is regularly checked is to record quality audits, avoid future mistakes, review employee performances as well as record timelines, targets and deliverables.

As the joint responsibility of both the project manager and project leader, project health lets you keep track of decisions concerning the project’s selection, business case, approval or rejection of scope changes and actions taken to resolve issues. It lets project leaders match resources against priorities and inject flexibility where required so that the project stays the course and makes use of the right and adequate supply of resources.

6. Risk mitigation

Project leaders know from experience that risks are inevitable. That’s why they rely on intuition and forecasting insights to identify and combat old, new or common project risks.

As a project leader, the more often you touch base with your teams, the better informed you are of the risks. This positions you to advise your staff on ways to counter the risks. What’s more, you can work together to create a risk chart depicting the severity, likelihood and mitigation plan.

7. Conflict resolution

At the end of the day, the role of project leaders have them dealing with people, and the likelihood of asymmetries between expectations and reality run high. In fact strategic resource coordination remains a key resource management challenge in operations management.

Simply put,once your resources are assigned projects, competing interests arise despite there being a task priority log. Add to which, newer priorities override existing one and displace schedules, which can result in teams becoming dysfunctional and uncooperative.

Experienced project leaders are best qualified to moderate talks and mediate. Not only can they assess the situation with an objective eye but can rule in favor of who was right all along. It begins with going back to the original documentation and priorities listed. They can then provide evidence that protects a project’s long-term interests and ensure that team workloads are smoothed out, and each member is getting the help and support he/she needs.

Project manager leadership skills

The points above indicate the role a project leader plays in turning things around. Credit to a project’s success goes to them as much as their project teams, given how influential they are in bringing out diverse skills in time and building a supportive network internally. Some of the project leadership skills you’ll need to advance professionally would include –

1. Inspiring and motivating: While there are several leadership styles, the ideal project leader is one who demonstrates his/her readiness to add value to the project. It could be as basic as managing resources across multiple projects to identifying ways to boost employee performance.

2. Negotiation: A skill best seen during the bidding stage, negotiation skills not only win you feasible contracts but also lets you communicate with different stakeholders in a language they understand.

3. Communication: 100% of a project manager’s time is spent in conversation, be it with their teams, clients or reporting bodies. Not only will it help you align roles to the company vision but will also enable you to see work from your team’s perspective.

4. Future-proofing talent: Digital disruptions are governing the usage and relevance of future skills. As cited by PMI’s 2019 Pulse survey, a critical component of the project management technology quotient (PMTQ) is to recognize and recruit for the skills needed to drive AI-themed applications.

5. Create a wider circle of influence: Good networkers establish and strengthen inter-departmental business ties. This way, you stay informed of resources with the right cultural mindsets, ableness and skills, which come in handy in the future when you need to find the right person for a new opportunity.

Think you’ll make a great project leader? Tell us what your experience has been like in the comments below!

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Namratha Mohan

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