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Project management is the art and science of juggling a large number of plates, some of which will remain in flux for longer periods of time than others. While there are plenty of naturally born leaders, the skills it takes to lead and manage projects to a successful completion must be learned, honed and continuously refined. A team leader should be constantly learning new methods for success.
If your training is older than five years, consider a reassessment of your skills. Are you as good of a plate juggler as you could be? How well do you manage team unity, performance metrics, operation strategies, and conflict resolution?
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Leadership Pitfalls, Problems and Liabilities
As outlined by the American Society for the Advancement of Project Management, there are a number of leadership preferences and inclinations that may doom a project from the onset. For example, although soft skills are generally considered secondary to project success, a heavy-handed autocratic manager is bound to not only alienate team members, but perhaps also derail the project with wrong decisions and unreasonable deadlines.
The direct opposite, the hands-off manager, is just as damaging to the team -- unless the members of the team are highly motivated and have worked together at numerous times before. Requiring little guidance, this type of team may not need leadership input to take on and complete the project; it is noteworthy that this type of team is rare.
If the leadership style could be a downfall, an unsuitable management style also adversely affects a project and a team. A bureaucrat will frustrate team members who know how to take calculated risks for project success. Even the way that the team lead seeks to inspire the members can lead to bad results. If a project manager is incapable of passing the vision for the project to the team, not even enthusiasm-inspiring meetings and brief morale boosters can make up for the freefall of the project.
Other problems associated with project administration are insufficient communications skills, failure to exercise time management and a personality unsuited to working under stress. Practices, such as nepotism or self-serving politicking, may also backfire and hamper rather than propel the project.
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Five Steps to Effectiveness
1. Personal and Professional Integrity. A project leader must have integrity in all dealings, be they with the management side of the business or the team. Playing one against the other, seeing the project merely as a means to professional advancement and failing to take into account the human side of project management all show a lack of integrity. Being part of a team requires that the leader adopts the “we" approach and molds actions to benefit the team in general and the project in particular.
2. Communication Skills. There is a difference between sending out numerous emails or text messages and actually interacting and sharing information. The effective team leader knows how to communicate by adapting the style of interaction to the hearer’s preference. An accountant will appreciate the hard facts and figures, while an operations manager is going to have more interest in the activities that are likely to influence the day-to-day operations of the business. Team members, too, benefit from custom-tailored approaches to information dissemination.
3. Data Organization Capabilities. Leadership of a project assumes that the manager takes on the responsibility of monitoring benchmark setting and adherence, budget constraints and of course the involvement of contractors or providers. A natural proclivity for information gathering, sorting and digesting is a must.
4. Leadership Skills. Although some professionals are naturally gifted with leadership skills, others must learn the ropes and develop theoretical and hands-on knowledge about the process of taking charge. It is interesting to note that project leadership is not necessarily synonymous with the job title of “supervisor" or “manager." A professional who anticipates taking on project leadership roles in the future should assess current skill sets and seek out additional training as needed.
5. Positive Attitude. Having a positive attitude is different from the sometimes insincere morale-boosting sessions. Instead, the team leader with this mindset operates from the vantage point that failure is not an option, and challenges are actually opportunities. This professional builds a cohesive team and inspires team members to take on challenges.
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Some of these traits are traditional soft skill that cannot necessarily be learned from a book, but actually should be developed from personal interactions and work experience. Are there any that you would add to the list?
- Photo Credit: “Chinese plate (juggling)” by אנדר-ויק/Wikimedia Commons via GNU Free Documentation License
- Cornell University, http://www.ecornell.com/certificate-programs/project-leadership-and-systems-design-training/project-leadership-certificate/crt/PLC1
- American Society for the Advancement of Project Management, http://www.asapm.org/asapmag/articles/LeadershipStyles.pdf