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This attribute of ownership and passion makes everyone associated with the project realize that "the buck stops here" as it relates to each project. There is an element of transparency as well in having strong ownership and passion for projects that makes project managers who have this attribute easy to work with, and as a result they gain support quickly in organizations.
Fifth, leadership in project management is also evident in the strong commitment to stay current with operations research, statistical, and operations research initiatives and plans throughout their areas of expertise. Having an inherent interest in the specific areas of project management, leaders in this field often contribute their expertise and thought leadership in written articles and industry speeches sharing their lessons learned in the process.
These five essential attributes are evident in project management leaders. The catalyst of excellent project management performance is a passion for the area and a genuine interest in seeing results from efforts to applying project management techniques to accomplishing complex development programs.
Project Management Leadership Is a Catalyst for Organizational Change
In addition to the essential attributes mentioned, project managers who are effective leaders also bring needed change, either in it systems, processes, and strategies into their organizations. Leadership in this context is all about changing processes to make them more efficient both internally and in serving customers, or coordinating with suppliers. The most effective leaders in project management roles are able to bring significant change into their organizations despite any cultural or legacy process constraints. Leaders in the project management role are able to work around these constraints and still bring needed change into an organization. This takes tact and intelligence to understand how much one aspect of the company can change and by how much.
As a result, the most desirable attribute of a project manager is to interpret the culture of their organizations and build change management plans that give their projects the highest possibility of success. This is often called creating change management strategies, and the best project managers excel at this. Caudron (1999) defines change management as the ability of executives to embrace the human side of change, specifically addressing the fact that people don't want to be changed; they want change to better their roles, responsibilities and future in a company. A project manager who is a leader is capable of providing a vision of how their contribution will benefit not only the contributor's career opportunities, but everyone's. Caudron (1999) also argues that executives and more specifically leaders who are project managers need to embrace the aspect of how change itself is changing; the speed and intensity of change is modifying companies, and the most effective behaviors leads can show is empathy for those affected and passion and genuine support for the strategies involved.
Galpin (1996) suggests that because changing the basic assumptions and beliefs of the underlying culture is very difficult, the best approach for influencing specific aspects of a culture that need to be changed for a project needs to be completed on an exception vs. all-inclusive basis. The essential skill of being able to navigate a culture and still accomplish project management goals while getting the endorsement of senior executives just underscores the critical need for strong communications and leadership skills in project managers.
A second highly desirable trait in project managers is the ability to decentralize decision making for key portions or components of their projects to ensure there is shared responsibility and ownership through the organization. Alstyne, Brynjolfsson and Madnick (1997) comment that "The very act of decentralizing decision-making - asking workers for their values and then taking them seriously - can have a positive effect on the change process by giving employees a sense of ownership and responsibility when it comes to redefining core business businesses." This is a very desirable trait in any leader as it infuses members of their teams with a strong understanding of how their efforts are contributing to the broader objective. While some experts would argue this is an essential skill, project managers who don't have leadership skills revert to formal authority to get cooperation from others to complete their projects. Begrudgingly associates complete tasks when ordered to by a project manager invoking the name of a senior executive, yet when a project manager can motivate through decentralizing decision making, contributors work to find their identity on the project management team they are asked to work with. There is a major difference in contributors' motivations to a project based on this point of being coerced vs. shown how critical their contributions are.
A third highly desirable trait is the ability of project managers who lead effectively is to gain trust by demonstrating their competency, credibility, recognition, and in the case of highly technical projects, engineering expertise. Only after the completion of a series of projects will a project manager able to gain credibility and a reputation for being competent and further add to their leadership skill sets. As project managers by nature need to influence those around them, these two highly desirable attributes of have a reputation as being competent, therefore earning credibility in the organizations' culture are especially desirable.
In highly technical industries including software development, these two attributes of credibility and a reputation for competence can make the difference between getting their projects done on time or not. That's because in these highly technical industries there often are not enough programmers, developers, or most importantly, test engineers to complete all projects in progress at any point in time. Very often those project managers who are leaders have the highest credibility and therefore the greatest insight into what is essential for the project to be completed can quickly get cooperation by appealing to highly skilled technical professionals to get the most critical elements of their projects done. They aren't trying to get their entire list of items done; just the most critical. Getting cooperation on this approach to getting a software project done requires a reputation for competence and with it, credibility. Project leaders who have high levels of credibility also regularly make sure the top contributors to their projects get even more credit and visibility than they do. This is critical for any project leader to become trusted by the teams they work with.
Jenkins and Oliver (1998) define this aspect of behavior that leads to successful project management as being critical for the creation of trust between project managers and the many affected employees of the company, and that is the projecting of credit on top contributors.
The intent of this analysis is to present the major differences between managers and leaders, further taking these concepts and applying them to the area of project management. While project managers are not required to have leadership skills and experience, the development and continual nurturing of these skills are essential for a project manager to attain the highest levels of performance possible. The essential attributes of a project manager who is leading a project vs. merely managing it have been discussed in addition to the critical requirement of their role as the catalyst of change in their organizations. Only by combining a very high degree of commitment and engendering commitment both from top management and from those on project teams will a leader in a project management role attain their goals.
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Caudron (1999) - Taking Charge of Change. Business Finance Magazine. January 1999. Page 27. Accessed from the Internet on May 10, 2008: http://www.businessfinancemag.com/magazine/archives/article.html?articleID=4931
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