Project Leadership: Guide to Achieving Great Results with the Right Skills in Your Project

Project Leadership: guide to achieving great results with the right skills

The year was 2008.

The city of San Francisco, California, faced a crisis. Its municipal railway system, which transports over 700,000 passengers every day, was proving to be ineffective. It needed an upgrade.

The system with the aging fleet of 900+ buses and light rail vehicles was beginning to face frequent breakdowns and delays. This was resulting in declining ridership, and a bleak financial outlook.

Something had to be done. And done quickly.

The city launched the Muni Transformation Plan. An ambitious project to purchase new state-of-the-art buses and train cars, construct new stations and lines, and replace the existing control system.

This project was led by San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom. It was his sharp mind that recognized the need for a comprehensive overhaul of the city’s public transportation infrastructure.

The first thing Newsom did was to assemble a team of experts from the public and private sectors.

He then asked them to create a plan to study the system and suggest improvements. He also worked with the city Board of Supervisors to secure the funding that was required, and also took the lead in rallying public support for the project.

In a couple of short years, Muni Transformation Plan was successfully completed.

The brand new fleet of buses and trains improved service and efficiency. The new control system reduced delays and breakdowns. As a result, the ridership increased.

In essence, San Francisco’s public transportation system was transformed.

Mayor Newsom’s leadership and management of the Muni Transformation project is an excellent example of project leadership. His vision, enthusiasm, and commitment to the project mobilized supporters and motivated the team to achieve success.

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What exactly is Project Leadership?

Project leadership helps the team realize on a daily basis that everyone is working together towards the same goal.

It’s like a game of soccer. You need the team captain to organize everyone and make sure everyone is doing their part to move the ball down the field.

That’s what a project leader does, they keep everyone organized and working together towards a common goal.

In stricter terms, the role of Project manager and project leader have slightly different responsibilities, and they both help make sure projects are successful.

The project manager tells the team what to do and when to do it, and the project leader keeps everyone motivated and excited to play the game. With a good project manager and project leader, the team can accomplish great things!

Now that’s just to understand the roles.

A project doesn’t necessarily have to have both roles (unless it’s a mega project, in which case you may have one project leader and multiple project managers). For most projects, the same person will act as both.

Consider Project Leader as the evolution of the role of a Project Manager.

Come to think of it, that’s the only way for the projects to be handled going forward. As a project leader.

Project leadership is a niche with a lot of demand. If you can transition from being a project manager to a project leader, you can be sure to take strides of growth in your career.

It all starts with a shift in mindset.

Let’s deconstruct this in a bit more detail.

What abilities should a Project Leader have?

Project leadership can be developed. For this, first, let us see some of the abilities that are necessary:

1. Ability to communicate effectively

Communication is an essential skill for a project leader. It is the ability to exchange thoughts, ideas, and plans in a way that everyone understands and can get to be a project leader

A good project leader should be able to explain their ideas and plans clearly, so that everyone on the team can understand and agree on the same goals. They should also be able to listen to the ideas and opinions of others and take them into account when making decisions.

For example, let’s say you are a project leader and you need to decide which software to use for a project. You should listen to the ideas and opinions of your team, and weigh the pros and cons of each option before making a decision. That way, everyone is on the same page and can work towards a common goal.

Another example is when it comes to giving feedback. As a project leader, you should be able to give constructive feedback in a way that helps your team members improve, without making them feel discouraged.

These are just a few examples of how a project leader can use effective communication to get the best outcome for the project.

2. Ability to delegate

Delegating work is a key skill for a project leader to possess. The idea of working in the project does not allow you to grow as a project manager. You should look to make time for yourself to grow – by delegating the right tasks to the right people. This will also help develop competence in your team.

Unless you prepare people to replace you, you cannot hope to get a promotion!

Delegation is the ability to identify tasks that can be delegated, assign them to the right people, and then make sure the task is done in a timely manner.

For example, imagine you are a project leader with a team of 8 people. And you need to make sure that the project is completed within the estimated timeline. You can do this by listing ALL the tasks that are required to be done from the perspective of management. You would start then make a match of specific tasks and right people on the team that can take them up, in addition to their core work. You of course need to ensure they have enough time to do their work and the work you assign them.

You may need to teach them, guide them, and oversee how they are doing it. It will not be easy at first, you may even face some resistance.

That’s where you need to choose the people with:

  • unbridled enthusiasm to learn new things,
  • the potential to perform the work,
  • the ambition to grow quickly, &
  • the willingness to contribute.

This ability to delegate is an important skill for a project leader to have, as it ensures that the project is completed on time and that each team member is utilized efficiently.

3. Ability to inspire and motivate

A good project leader should be able to inspire and motivate the team to work together and accomplish project objectives.

Like the coach of a soccer team. He should be able to get the players to work together, push themselves, and strive for victory. Similarly, a good project leader must be able to inspire the team to put in their best effort to work collaboratively and deliver the outcome as per agreed-upon quality standards.

This can be done by setting clear expectations, providing support, and using positive reinforcement.

As a project leader, you also need to be able to recognize and acknowledge the hard work of the team and reward them for their efforts. This will show your team that their hard work is valued and appreciated.

4. Ability to adapt and solve problems

Project leadership is also about being able to work with and understand the people around you. It’s about identifying problems and coming up with solutions to fit the particular needs of the team and situation.

A good example of this of course Muni Transformation Plan we saw earlier. Mayor Newsom had to deal with resistance from internal stakeholders, and deal with decision-makers and other stakeholders to get approval and support for the overhauling project. Solve the challenges that cropped up along the way.

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What are the key responsibilities of a Project Leader?

The responsibilities of a leader are not defined. They are versatile and have the knack to get things done without being in a command and control position. However, here are some of the responsibilities one can look to cultivate.

1. Establishing Goals and Objectives

When it comes to establishing goals and objectives, the most important precursor for a project leader to do is to show the team a clear vision for the project of what the end goal is.

You would be anchoring people to serve a vision that is bigger than themselves and even the project.

Think of setting goals and objectives to be like a map; the more detailed the map, the easier it is to reach the destination. For example, if you’re trying to build a new house, you’ll need to have a plan that outlines every step required from start to finish. You’ll need to decide on the types and sizes of the rooms, the materials you’ll use for floor, wall, ceiling, and fittings, how much it will cost, how long it will take to procure, and so on.

The same goes for any goal or objective you’re trying to achieve.

A good project leader will help team members align their own goals to that of the project and even the organization.

If a technical team member wants to grow into an architect, then assign her the role of assisting the main architect in the team, and work with the PMOs to see how this person can be groomed to take on new projects in the future, thus helping the organization grow rapidly.

You need to ensure the team knows how the end result looks and what ‘done & delivered’ looks like.

2. Developing Project Plans and Schedules

First, it’s important to understand that a project leader is accountable for the successful completion of a project. This is different from being responsible. Everyone on the project is responsible, of course. But the whole accountability lies with the project leader.

This means that you need to be able to plan and organize the project in a humane way in order to ensure that it meets the goals and objectives of the organization, without burning out the team.

A project plan is a detailed document that outlines the objectives, tasks, and timeline for the completion of a project.

A schedule is a timeline that breaks down the project into smaller, more manageable pieces.

A project leader must use these to build an understanding of the overall picture within the team, and overall visibility of the progress to all the stakeholders. And then ensure that the project is completed as per the approved schedule and cost baselines.

3. Managing Resources and Teams

An inspiring project leader should be able to manage resources and teams in a humane way so that everyone feels supported and motivated to work toward achieving project objectives.

For example, as a project leader, you should be aware of the strengths and weaknesses of every team member. Use this knowledge to assign appropriate tasks. Skill-to-task assignment sets a base environment to enjoy the work.

You should also provide regular feedback and support to your team members, so they feel comfortable and confident in their roles.

In addition, provide all required resources that are necessary for team members on time, to be successful, such as access to technology, training opportunities, and time to complete tasks.

Finally, you need to be able to foster an environment of trust, respect, and collaboration so that everyone feels like they are valued and can work together to reach the project’s goals.

This is where the servant leadership aspect of a project leader comes to the fore.

As a project leader, it’s important to remember that the people on your team are the most important part of any project, and taking the time to nurture and support them is the foundation on which project success is built.

4. Monitoring and Controlling Project Progress

We already understand that the project is termed a success only when it is completed on time, within budget, and to the desired quality standards. To do this, it’s important to monitor and control the progress of the project at every stage and course-correct wherever necessary.

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Challenges faced by Project Leaders

No role comes without inherent challenges! Project leadership is no different. While we know that on a project you cannot anticipate the types of challenges, here are 3 top challenges that you can focus on to improve your skills for.

1. Dealing with Changes

The trick here is to be proactive and anticipate issues that a proposed change may bring in.

In a recent article, we saw in depth the challenges faced by a project manager in dealing with change.

A project leader must be able to anticipate and manage change, as change is a normal part of any project.

To do this, it’s important to do the following:

Stay organized. Keep track of what is currently happening as well as plan for any upcoming changes. Some changes are intentional, some are reactive to the things happening in the project environment. Being organized means having a clear plan and timeline, with milestones and tasks laid out, to ensure that the project is progressing as expected.

Be flexible. As the change occurs, be able to adjust their plans accordingly. This may mean revising timelines, reassigning tasks, or making other changes to accommodate the new situation.

Communicate. Keep everyone on the team informed of any changes, so that everyone is on the same page and can adjust accordingly.

Lead by example. Show the team how to be resilient in the face of change. This means showing the team how to remain positive and proactive, while also demonstrating how to tackle the challenges of change.

These 4 strategies will help a project leader to successfully manage any changes that may arise during a project.

2. Managing Conflict

Let us understand this. There is no project without conflicts.

There is a demand for crucial resources, negative stakeholders looking to clandestinely bring the project down, and even team members vying for a type of profile or role.

Managing conflicts is a critical skill a project leader must possess.

One of the best ways to manage conflicts is to be proactive. If you can anticipate potential disagreements or conflicts, you can help prevent them from occurring. For example, you can set up regular team meetings to discuss progress or potential challenges, or create a plan for how to handle disagreements when they arise.

Another way to manage conflicts is to use active listening. When disagreements arise, it’s important to let everyone voice their opinion and YOU listen carefully to what they’re saying. This can help you understand the other person’s perspective and find common ground.

It’s also important to focus on solutions. When disagreements arise, instead of arguing, try to focus on finding a solution that works for everyone. This can help the team move forward and stay productive.

Finally, it’s important to be flexible. In a project, there are often unexpected challenges. As a project leader, it’s important to be able to quickly adjust to changing circumstances and come up with solutions that work for the team.

By following these strategies, you can become an effective project leader and manage conflicts successfully.

3. Managing Expectations

Consider the job of a project leader to be like a parent in the family. Every family members have different expectations, which may or may not be aligned with how the parent wants to manage the needs of the family. With a limited monthly budget to run the family, everyone’s expectations may not be fulfilled.

Similarly, as a project leader, it is important to manage the different expectations of different stakeholders.

One way to do this is to set clear expectations for each stakeholder. Expectations are a 2-way street. While the stakeholders may have certain expectations, the project too will have certain expectations from each stakeholder.

Another way to manage different expectations is to make sure that everyone understands the value of the project and how their individual contributions can help make it a success.

For example, if a stakeholder is contributing their expertise to the project, it is important to make sure that they understand how their contribution will help to further the project goals.

Finally, it is important to be flexible when managing different expectations.

For example, if a stakeholder suddenly changes their expectations for a project, a project leader should be able to come up with a way to adjust the project plan and still meet the requirements of the stakeholder.

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In Summary,

Let me say this again.

Consider Project Leader as the evolution of the role of a Project Manager.

Project leadership = project management + being human + leadership qualities.

Come to think of it, that’s the only way for the projects to be handled going forward. As a project leader.

Project leadership is a niche with a lot of demand.

If you can transition from being a project manager to a project leader, you can be sure to take strides of growth in your career quite easily.

Good luck!

Learn PMP with Shiv Shenoy, PMPShiv Shenoy, PMP

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Photo by Amy Hirschi on Unsplash.

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