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IT Project Leadership

Project leadership requires technical depth and management breadth in order to impact positively on IT project success.

Project LeadershipA project manager’s role consists of two distinctly different yet complementary skills. Both are necessary for today’s changing and complex business environment. On the one hand you must have the project management skills to deal effectively with goals related to time, scope, budgeting, staffing, estimating and cost. On the other, you must provide leadership by influencing others, harnessing the social and emotional potential of the project team, inspiring a usually diverse team to work together and you must be the driving force that creates project success.

I have found that the leadership skills are more difficult to find especially combined with the technical project management skills. Good leaders have the project vision and know how to align team members with their goals. They provide the structure and motivation to enhance team performance. They provide inspiration to achieve project objectives. A project manager who is an effective leader enables project teams to work together can deliver results faster, better and more cost effectively.

The importance of leadership was well defined by an ancient Greek (Alexander the Great).

“I am not afraid of an army of lions led by a sheep”

“I am afraid of an army of sheep led by a lion”

Leadership is a critical and essential component for any IT project success.

There are a number habits or traits that separate a successful project manager (leader) from unsuccessful one:

Cultivate trust – Since project team members rarely report functionally to the project manager, you need to gain their respect and trust. Stand by them when times get tough and don’t sell them out when things go wrong. You are the project manager (leader) and you are accountable for the end result. Stand true to this and your team will trust you and go the extra mile based on respect alone.

Know your team – The goal is to have some interest in the team members as human beings to build a more effective work environment. The personal lives of team members impact their work behavior as well. Know enough about the team members to be able to understand what motivates them, but no enough to pry.

Keep an open mind – A successful leader knows that there is usually more than one way to do things and open to team suggestions and ideas. A closed attitude prevents new and better methods from being implemented. Some unsuccessful project managers believe that there is just one way to do things right and that one way is their way. Empower others to act

Expectations – Project team members generally try to live up to the leader’s expectation. If the project manager believes that the team members are unworthy and lazy his or her expectation will come true. On the other hand if the project manager has high expectations of the team they will respond accordingly. Expect little – get little expect lots – get lots. It is the leader’s job to set the expectations for the team.

Performance review – Successful project managers provide timely performance feedback to the team members. Unsuccessful project managers hold back their assessment and only provide information to the team members’ functional manager.

Empower others to act – Great leaders don’t do everything themselves. Those that do, suffer burn out. As a leader you must create environments where team members feel they can safely make decisions. This isn’t about usurping your role as project manager. It’s about the acceptance of responsibility at all levels and a collective sense of ownership. Set the direction and watch the natural emergence of advocates for success.

Creating the work environment – Leaders shape the organization through the kind of culture they propagate. The culture helps determine whether team members enjoy work or dread it. A poor culture leads to poor project execution, which leads to project failure. A positive culture leads to better work environment and higher chance for project success.

IT Project SuccessThere are other traits and habits that effect how well a leader will perform but if he or she cannot deal with the above in a positive fashion, the IT project will likely fail. Strong leadership is a major contributor to a project’s success or failure.

Leaders will achieve IT project success through motivation and inspiration.

Project leaders must possess a blend of specialized knowledge and key project leadership skills to drive optimum performance. They need the ability to harness their team’s collective intelligence, exercise appropriate influence no matter their level and communicate effectively.

In my previous blog, I wrote about the importance of incomplete or changing requirements as it relates to IT project planning for success. I also use this book as a frequent, excellent reference on technology project management.