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Ok, this ended up being a multi-part series. Here is more on leadership versus management.

Question: Are you a project manager or a project leader?

I’m not asking what your actual title is, but rather what is your project management style? Do you lead, or just manage? What is the difference?

If you look at my first post (Leadership vs. Management: Part 1) you’ll notice that there is a big difference between the two. This post is more of the same theory, but more pointed toward project management work rather than being so general.

First, let’s define a project manager and a project. Wikipedia states a project manager “has the responsibility of the planning, execution, and closing of any project.” PMI adds two other process groups to this, Initiating, Planning, Executing, Monitoring/Controlling, and Closing. Projects are defined as a single, unique effort with a definite start date, definite end date, and specific budget.

So, how does leadership vs. management come in to play here? Well, the answer is pretty simple. A “simple” project manager can follow the guidelines and processes of any project management methodology. There are good, even great project managers all around the world and their work is commendable. A powerful project manager, however, is one that is more of a project leader than a project manager. As I mentioned in my previous article, leaders can inspire greatness in any situation. Leaders have the mental tools to take their project teams to the next level.

Project leaders equip their teams with all of the tools they need to get the job done on time and under budget. Andy Crowe in his book The PMP Exam: How to pass on Your First Try mentions the project manager being “large and in charge” which is an important part of the leadership recipe. Being large and in charge means having the mental toughness and ability to make decisions. What it also means, however, is something that many leaders forget. Project leaders empower their teams to do their jobs.

Let me repeat that. Project leaders empower their teams to do their jobs.

Empowerment is vital to the success of a good project team. Each team member must be trusted to perform their own jobs and be given the ability to make decisions in order to do so. This does three things for the project: it frees up the project leader to focus more on the threats and opportunities the project faces, it speeds up the decision making processes so that red tape does not get in the way of the day-to-day work of the project, and it also gives the team member additional confidence knowing they add real value to the team.

One thing that cannot be overlooked is the selection of the actual team. Project leaders have done their research. They look for team members that produce consistently and know how to do their jobs. They get the folks that are the best in the business (whatever business that may be) and take advantage of their availability. It is important, however, to bring up less seasoned team members, or even educated rookies, with the veterans so their experience can grow with the best in the business.

Overall, leadership is a vital portion of the project management experience. Those with leadership capabilities have the ability to take their projects to a higher level of productivity. As a hiring manager, you don’t have to hire someone with leadership abilities. You can hire a competent project manager and make a good hire. If you are given the choice, however, a project leader is worth the extra money.

Do you want your project to be good or great. The choice is up to you.

Thanks for tuning in.

Jim Shaffer, PMP

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