How is project leadership different from project management? Stephen R. Covey, author of “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” teaches the important principle of managing things and leading people. This concept definitely applies in a project management setting. Project scope statements, schedules, budgets, materials, equipment and other similar tools and resources are things that must be managed. Project stakeholders are people that must be led. Managing tools and resources is the foundation of good bricks-and-mortar project management. Working well with people, providing vision, establishing elevating goals, motivating stakeholders, causing people to stretch and communicating effectively are all at the heart of successful project leadership.
John Kotter, a Harvard Business School professor and author of “The Leadership Factor,” says strong management without leadership may become static and bureaucratic. In accordance with these thoughts, successful project management requires a good mix of both leadership and management to avoid bureaucracy or volatility during the project lifecycle. Project Managers should be the personification of both of these skill sets.
However, too often project managers forget the importance of people and fall back on the management skills that are easier to implement. They are then left to grind through project details without truly having a vision of what it takes to produce success. Truly successful project managers remember the importance of people in producing success; and, they lean more towards the leadership end of the spectrum.
The road toward effective leadership and project success may seem more difficult than managing things. After all, things don’t talk back to you or have a bad day! You don’t have to communicate with things, deal with their personal problems or trust they will do their job. Tools, materials and equipment normally do what they are supposed to do. People, on the other hand, are free to think and act for themselves. This is both the difficulty and beauty of working with people and providing good leadership. Good leaders who can help people channel their thoughts and actions toward producing project success are truly on the “road less traveled.” These are the project managers who find incredible fulfillment while leading their team through the project lifecycle.
So how does a project manager provide good leadership? As leaders, project managers must act much like coaches of athletic teams. Coaches always have the goal of getting the right people, with the right skills, in the right place, at the right time. To do this, good coaches carefully look for the best available athletes and do all they can to train them to improve their natural, or previously learned, abilities. They then provide appropriate vision and direction and empower them to perform on the field. In a similar manner, project managers must build the team, establish vision and direction and then empower the team to produce success.