How Can a PM Become a Real Leader?

Tom Mochal of TenStep wrote an article in the Project Management Blog of TechRepublic called Exhibit leadership on challenging projects where he argues that the challenging projects are the ultimate place where the project managers can show and test their leadership skills. He gives a list of advises what a project manager should do to become a real leader in case trouble reaches his or her project. I would only note that Tom Mochal’s advises are very helpful not only for troubled projects but for all projects. Following them can guarantee a very high probability a project to succeed. Here they are:

  • Keep your eyes on the big picture. When things get tough, everybody’s temptation is to become acutely focused on the problems. A leader stays focused on the vision of completing the project objectives. When everyone in the team tends to run into details, your leadership keeps everyone focused on the big picture and the value you’re providing.
  • Maintain team cohesion. When circumstances get tough, even the most loyal team members can tend to become pessimistic. Team members are tempted to start shooting perceived enemies and, unfortunately, they sometimes shoot each other. They begin to question each other and find fault with one another. The real leader fights this urge and helps the team stick together.
  • Be the first to sacrifice. When there’s pain to share, leaders should do just that. If the team needs to work overtime, the project manager should work overtime as well. If the project team needs to come in on Saturday, the project manager needs to be in as well. Don’t just share the pain — take more than your share (but not all) of it.

    Well, this is the only point I wouldn’t agree much with. If you take the blame, the sacrifice, and most of the pain you wouldn’t be able to continue leading the team. You would be thrown away. I agree the leader should share the team’s burden but at the same time they should keep their dignity and authority. (Mike)
  • Remain calm. Panic is a common human emotion and no one is immune to it. A leader, however, thinks the problems through and remains rational. Being calm will enable the leader to make the right decisions for the entire team. Panic only leads to disaster, while calm leads to victory.
  • Motivate. In tough and challenging times, people tend to get emotionally drained. They can’t see how it’s all going to work out. The project manager should focus on motivating the team and show how the result will be good. A leader must remain positive and likewise keep the team positive.
  • Create small wins. When things are bad, the team starts to wonder how they can win. The project manager should look for ways to win — even small, interim victories. With each small win, the leader will build esteem and a positive attitude.
  • Keep a sense of humor. Hardly anything in life can’t be laughed at. As the project manager you need to look for opportunities to instill fun, and laugh at yourself and the situations that present themselves.

When project managers show leadership, the team will follow – maybe not immediately, but eventually. The project manager is the person to lead the charge and to keep the entire project on track.

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