The need for effective leadership is greater than ever before
Traditionally, a good project manager was someone who was logical and rational and effective at dealing with events, tasks and processes. It was someone who would work to the client’s brief and use their authority to deliver the desired outputs. Often, this type of project manager would study best practices and company procedures so that they could play by the rules and ensure that the standards were upheld. By understanding how the firm operated, they could blend in, adopt the company culture and ensure that their team would continue to contribute to the way things had always been done.
The traditional paradigm no longer works
But this approach no longer works. We cannot rely on the old ways of delivering projects as the world is becoming increasingly complex and competitive. We are operating in a more-for-less culture where there is a demand for faster, cheaper and better quality projects – a quest, which requires us to continuously question, innovate, take risks and change the practices that are no longer serving us.
As a result, there is a need for a new type of project leader who can deal with ambiguity and complexity, optimize processes, deliver better value, foster collaboration at all levels, and motivate the team to achieve the expected outcomes. As one executive recently said to me: “if a project manager just follows orders he is not much use to me.” It is time to shift our traditional project management mindset of compliance and tick boxing. It is limiting our opportunities and it is contributing to project failure.
Optimize business benefits and human potential
In order to generate this shift, project managers and executives must work together in selecting the projects that make the most economic and strategic sense by ensuring that every benefit ties back to a dollar-figure or to corporate strategy. In addition they must critically assess which new technologies and working practices they can employ, which extra benefits they can deliver – and very importantly – how they can better utilize the human potential of their projects.
The team is the project’s biggest asset and this is where we find one of the largest opportunities for development. Many change initiatives produce a sub-optimal outcome because of a failure to engage the team and stakeholders at a deeper level. Many managers operate at the surface where they are predominantly concerned with the delivery of a product or an outcome through the completion of tangible actions, tasks and activities. But projects bring about change, and invariably upset the way people are used to doing things. If managers ignore the emotional and psychological side of the project they will come across resistance and lack of buy-in, which in turn undermines the change process and contributes to failure.
The world is changing at a rapid pace and the need for effective leadership is greater than ever before. Thinking and behaving with a traditional project management mindset of control and compliance is not serving us.
To enable better leadership of projects, project managers and executives must work together and become ambassadors for better ways of doing projects. In particular they must focus on value-add, agility and on optimizing human potential and understanding psychology. If we continue to do what we have always done, we will continue to get what we have always got – and that’s just not good enough!
It is an honor to have Susanne Madsen contribute to the KPS blog! Susanne is an internationally recognized project leadership coach, trainer and consultant. She is the author of The Project Management Coaching Workbook (2012) and The Power of Project Leadership (2015).
Prior to setting up her own business, she worked for 17 years in the corporate sector leading large change programs of up to $30 million for organizations such as Standard Bank, Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase. She is a fully qualified Corporate and Executive coach and a member of the Association for Project Management (APM).
Susanne specializes in helping managers improve their leadership skills so that they can gain control of their projects and fast-track their career. She does this through training, coaching, mentoring and consulting.