What makes for a good leader? While we all have our definition of what makes us want to follow someone, at a minimum they must know what they are talking about, make us feel secure in what they are saying, and then follow through on their commitments.
Now, there have been endless debates and countless forum discussions about whether a project manager is indeed a project leader that fits the above description. The conversation goes on ad nauseam that project managers do more than just “manage” a project to completion, but rather “lead” the project to completion.
Let’s put this argument to rest today. In today’s business environment, in today’s economy, and in today’s competitive marketplace there are no longer project managers but ONLY project leaders. There are no longer cut and dry, formulaic, off-the shelf project plans that a project manager can copy and paste into a new project plan and share with others using collaboration software. They can no longer update a couple of tasks, resources, and dates and then sit back and fire off one email missive after another demanding status updates and inform people they are behind.
The world doesn’t work that way anymore. Project Managers (aka Project Leaders) must get their hands dirty, become extremely familiar with collaboration, blaze through uncharted territory for their team members to follow and carve a new way for other teams and projects to follow behind.
So, if you are an effective project manager then you are truly leading the project and team members from beginning to end. The following are three traits that you MUST have as a project manager if you want to qualify for this elite new position of being a project leader.
It goes without saying, but we’ll say it anyway….you need to know what you are talking about. People are not going to follow anyone that they feel is clueless. This is the person that always has to check with someone else, has not come up with an original thought for a long period of time, or continues to make the same mistakes over and over again. NOTE: New mistakes are OK to make, but make sure you keep these to a minimum and learn from them immediately.How do you gain competence? The following are a number of ways that you can gain competence as a project manager:
Experience – It’s no surprise that experience is the best teacher. If you do something long enough, you can’t help but get better at it. If you’ve been in the same field for a number of years, or worked with the same people, or used the same technology, then this will always result in increased competence.
Education – Whether you went to a university, college, technical school or any other form of education, as a matter, of course, this will bring with it some form of competence and know-how. Make the most of your education and connect it immediately to competence by applying it in your job. Adults who have gone back to school after they’ve been in the workplace really know how quickly education can catapult their career forward. They are able to apply what they learn in the context of the business world immediately.
Pain and mistakes – A toddler will not touch the hot stove again after they’ve touched it the first time and been burned. A project manager will not [insert your mistake here] again after they’ve done it the first time and have been burned. There’s much to be said about learning from your mistakes that directly feeds into competence.
Learn from others – Become competent by learning from others. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. There doesn’t need to be the pride of ownership where your brilliance, knowledge, and insight thought of everything. Use collaboration software to share ideas and transfer knowledge. There’s just not enough time in the day. Ask people who are more experienced than you, in different industries, or have made mistakes so you don’t have to. Read LOTS of books about LOTS of things. Learning from others is one of the best, fastest, and least painful ways to shortcut the path toward competence.
Once you have established that you know what you are talking about…then start acting like you know what you are talking point. There is nothing sadder than a project manager (leader) that is suffering from a lack of confidence. There is a quiver in their voice, a bit of mumbling, and a hesitancy to speak up. Nobody wants to follow somebody else that is unsure of where they are going themselves.How can you gain confidence? The first thing to do is to gain competence (see above). Just by the fact that you “know your stuff” you will begin to exhibit a certain level of confidence. Then, after a project is successful (or 2, or 3, or 100 projects are successful) then you will begin to ooze with confidence. People will look forward to your collaboration sessions. If you always check your facts twice and corroborate with two or three different sources you will be able to speak from a position of authority and confidence rather than a position of weakness and uncertainty.
You’ve reached nirvana once you’ve made it this far as a project manager. Credibility is the quality of being believable or worthy of trust. This is when you’ve made it to the point of “I know you may not understand that this is the best way of doing things, but just trust me…” and they do. They put full faith and confidence in your word because they know you know what you are talking about, have been successful to this point, and have their best interest at heart.Maintain and guard your credibility with a vengeance. It takes a long time to achieve credibility and only a couple of mistakes, miscommunication, or even a professional rival attacking you to lose this priceless achievement in the blink of an eye.
Are you a project leader? If you’ve been a project manager for any length of time then by default you are a project leader. There is no room for project managers that just ‘manage’. Those days are gone and lackluster project managers have been released from their companies long ago by downsizing, layoffs, and reductions in force. Maintain your edge by bringing competence, confidence, and credibility with you wherever you go and you’ll continue to find that you can bring value to any organization.