On leading projects

I’m yet to meet an ambitious working professional who wouldn’t want to step into management. Leading and managing projects is a natural progression for most individual contributors.

It’s a crucial stage in the professional development of an employee. And I believe it’s the stage where future leaders are built. The habits and traits one develops while learning to manage projects carries over to the next stages where they become responsible for people, programs, and eventually, the organization (or departments) at large.

The following are the key characteristics that make one an effective project manager:

  • Team Building: Inspires and fosters team commitment, spirit, pride, and trust. Facilitates cooperation and motivates team members to accomplish group goals.
  • Customer Service: Anticipates and meets the needs of both internal and external customers. Delivers high-quality products and services; is committed to continuous improvement.
  • Technical Credibility: Understands and appropriately applies principles, procedures, requirements, regulations, and policies related to specialized expertise.
  • Accountability: Holds self and others accountable for measurable high-quality, timely, and cost-effective results. Determines objectives sets priorities, and delegates work. Accepts responsibility for mistakes. Complies with established control systems and rules.
  • Decisiveness: Makes well-informed, useful, and timely decisions, even when data are limited, or solutions produce unpleasant consequences; perceives the impact and implications of findings.
  • Influencing/Negotiating: Persuades others; builds consensus through give and take; gains cooperation from others to obtain information and accomplish goals.

My favourite piece of advice for most project leaders is simply this: you can make project management as simple or complicated as you would like. Most people tend to get lost in the weeds, eh, details. Most of which don’t even matter in the short or long run of any given project. 

Reviewing the list above will help you understand the fundamentals of leading projects effectively. And while you’re at it, note that the responsibilities are quite different from managing yourself or serving as an individual contributor.

Technical Credibility, for example, means having the understanding of the principles, processes, requirements of the domain you are leading the projects for; and not to be an expert in what goes inside of it.

The idea, as always, is to keep the “main thing, the main thing.” Precisely where most project managers screw things up. They try to become subject matter experts instead of focusing on the project management process. Now, that’s a recipe for disaster!

The antidote is to focus on the essentials and leave out all the rest. A great habit to develop at this stage of leadership development, which reaps the rewards as you move up the ladder.

P.S. Read more about the 5 Leadership Competencies here.

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