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by Denene Brox
by Denene Brox

W hen you look at influential business figures like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, it seems like they were born leaders. Not only are they able to articulate

a clear vision, they also have an

uncanny ability to inspire people

and help them turn those visions

into reality.

>>To be seen as a leader, project mangers should play up their natural mediator skills when dealing with sponsors and stakeholders.

Yet the ugly truth is that project managers—caught up in a whirlwind of budgets and schedules—often lack those finely honed leadership instincts. That doesn’t mean such instincts can’t be cultivated, though. “Leadership skills can be learned,” says David Davis, PMP, PgMP, a program manager at telecom giant AT&T, Sylvania, Ohio, USA. However, this is only possible if the project manager wants to learn them. “This self-motivation is half the bat- tle, and the rest becomes a combination of style, day-to-day behavior and situ- ational experience,” he says.

Sure, it helps to attend leader- ship development seminars and read

helps to attend leader- ship development seminars and read 76 PM NETWORK OCTOBER 2010 WWW.PMI.ORG the


the appropriate books. But the best classroom is often the front lines of a project—developing plans, commu- nicating with clients, inspiring your team and solving the problems that pop up along the way. “Project managers have the opportunity to share their vision about the scope of a project with the team, to build trust through a participative process when planning the project, to listen to the team and promote a work environment that stimulates adaptation when changes are necessary,” says Alcides Santopi- etro Jr., PMP, project planner and controller at SNC-Lavalin, an engi- neering and construction group in Montréal, Québec, Canada. All of those responsibilities help build a better leader, but you’re still going to have to work at it. Here are some other tips:

Humility might not be the 1 first leader-

ship skill that jumps to mind, but even

team leaders must understand their

complementary role as a team player.

“I have seen many project managers

be condescending to their team and feel

Avoid the power trip.

that the title of project manager pro- vides them with a certain power,” Mr. Davis says. “You are still part of a team, and your role is to make sure the team understands what is trying to be accom- plished, the timeframe to accomplish it, their individual tasks and how the tasks are related.” Sometimes project managers have to admit that someone else on the team is more capable of carrying out a certain task. “Project management leaders insp-

pire confidence and trust when they have the confidence to defer tasks to those better-skilled, the ability to admit they do not know an answer and the wisdom to coach rather than command,” says Joseph R. Czarnecki, PMP. He is senior consultant of global learning solutions for Europe, the

The ability to get the most out of all team members can make the difference

The ability to get the most out of all team members can make the difference between a good project and a great project.

—Gareth Byatt, PMP, PgMP, Lend Lease, Sydney, Australia

Middle East and Africa at project management training firm ESI Inter- national, London, England. “Those who have a high regard for others, regardless of their experience and role, are always inspirational leaders.”

2 scope creep.

Maintain balance.

Project managers must contend with

demands coming from several direc-

tions: the organization, team members

and clients. And they need to juggle

all those requests while staying on

schedule, within budget and without

To be seen as a leader, project man- gers should play up their natural media- tor skills when dealing with sponsors and stakeholders. “Subtly call out the elephant in the room,” Mr. Davis says. “A project manager leader has a knack for getting people with opposing opinions into a situation where he or she can address the matter and look for a result. A proj- ect manager must be good at presenting the pros and cons of each position, hopefully leading to a less-emotional resolution.” When it comes to team members, avoid focusing too heavily on tasks versus the individuals involved, says Michel Operto, PMP, IT transforma- tion lead at Orange Business Services,

a global telecom services provider in Valbonne, France. “People make or break projects,”

he says.

“We ought to balance our

investment between the ‘project’ and the ‘management’ aspects of project management.”

Great leaders realize each team 3 member

has his or her own work style and per-

sonality, and they take the time to get


Expecting everyone to work in the same

way is naïve at best and can jeopardize a

project at worst. “The ability to get the most out of all team members can make the dif- ference between a good project and a great project,” says Gareth Byatt, PMP, PgMP, head of the global informa- tion and communication technology program management office at Lend Lease, a global project and construc- tion management firm headquartered in Sydney, Australia. “When people feel empowered to perform to their best ability, they display a sense of enthusiasm and drive that benefits the overall project.” Project managers should be able to detect each team member’s motiva- tional factors and adjust accordingly, Mr. Santopietro notes.

Play to a team’s strengths.

know players on an individual level.


People make or break projects. We ought to balance our investment between the ‘project’ and

People make or break projects. We ought to balance our investment between the ‘project’ and the ‘manage- ment’ aspects of project management.

—Michel Operto, PMP, Orange Business Services, Valbonne, France

“Some individuals are naturally more competitive than others. For oth- ers, recognition of their work is very important. And there are people who value the process as much as the results that come at the end,” he says. “The

true project manager leader will identify these specific aspects and create a work environment that satisfies as many of them as possible.”

A project manager who doesn’t

respect team members as individuals isn’t truly a leader. Mr. Czarnecki recalls

such a person: “He never valued the judgment of his team member ‘experts.’ He always asked for our advice and input, but never once used it,” he says. “It ended up making the project hugely over budget and resulted in a very unhappy client. He was completely unaware of how unhappy the entire team was under his leadership.”

of how unhappy the entire team was under his leadership.” 4 “A Be willing to cut



Be willing to cut your losses.

Imagine working for months on a proj-

ect, investing countless hours, only to

discover it’s a sinking ship. It’s unfor-

tunate, but a great project manager is

willing to do what’s hardest, Mr. San-

topietro says.

true project leader has the cour-

age to start over,” he says. “That means scrapping a project plan and the work that’s been done up to that point, rede- fining the project objectives and scope statements, and calling the client to explain all of that.”



As tempting as it might be to just wait it out and hope things will get bet- ter, project managers must be willing to deliver the unpleasant news. “It’s a leadership skill that probably isn’t practiced as much as it should be,” Mr. Czarnecki says. “It is usually the proj- ect sponsor that makes the final decision to keep or kill a project. But a good proj- ect manager leader ensures that the right

information gets to the sponsor with the right recommendations at the right time.” That message must be conveyed with the conviction and confidence that comes with knowing—and believing in—the right decision, he adds.


Look for hidden opportunities.

If there’s one thing that became read-

ily apparent during the recession, it’s

that change can occur overnight. Those

project managers who adapted to the

shifts—and indeed even discovered

some hidden gems in the rubble of the

downturn—came out all the stronger.

“From a leadership perspective, the recession has been both a good and a bad thing,” Mr. Czarnecki says. “For many project managers, especially dur- ing the first six to eight months of the recession, it was an excellent opportu- nity to practice and grow leadership skills. Natural leaders had an oppor- tunity to rise. While it wasn’t pleasant, the leadership lessons learned will guide many professionals for years, if not decades, to come.” PM