Top Tips on Project Leadership (Bahia Sarlie, Consultant, PM.Ideas)

A lot of ground has been covered on the roles that executives should play to ensure more successful projects, but project managers are expected to deliver projects successfully, despite the maturity of the project environment. To this end, I would like to offer some tried and tested tips and tricks ...


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Top Tips on Project Leadership (Bahia Sarlie, Consultant, PM.Ideas)

| Wednesday, 18 September 2013

A lot of ground has been covered on the roles that executives should play to ensure more successful projects, but project managers are expected to deliver projects successfully, despite the maturity of the project environment. To this end, I would like to offer some tried and tested tips and tricks to tip the scale of success in your favour, as project and program managers.

  • The most powerful tool you can have in your arsenal is your ability to leverage your knowledge, skills and experience as a Project Management Professional (PMP®) and or Program Management Professional (PgMP®). Just having the certification unlocks opportunities for you to discuss your needs and concerns (around executive support) with the necessary executive stakeholders. Once the opportunity to have the conversation is unlocked, you then have the perfect opportunity to influence him/her by articulating best practice and sharing your experience regarding the risks and issues experienced as a result of poor executive sponsorship/support. (Yes, this means that you have to teach the executives of the business before you can influence their thinking.) If you are not a PMP®, this is the time to consider getting certified. If you’re concerned about not having enough hours to qualify to write the exam, explore the CAPM® certification with haste!
  • Since the risk of poor executive sponsorship is alive and well, you would do well to invest some of your time improving your risk management skills. (PM.Ideas is uniquely positioned to offer a few specialist courses in this regard, which will stand you in good stead to navigate the uncertainty of this profession with more rigour and flair.) If your biggest challenge is getting the sponsor to make time to meet with you, so that s/he can understand the project progress and/or what help you need, find creative ways of ‘catching’ him/her at the right time. For example, it is reasonably safe to guess that most executives are making their ways to their respective offices just before 08:00 am every weekday. Provided that the executive is a responsible citizen and uses a wireless device in his/her car, I try and ‘catch’ them via telephone in the car. I generally have a captive audience at this time and achieve much during this normally dead (non-productive) time. I strongly recommend that you do a little scenario planning before you make the call though… the executive is not going to have time for you to babble on and on without purpose. You’ll need to capture his/her attention within a few seconds to make sure that he stays engaged for long enough to assist you however you need. If you’re not convinced that you’ve got your pitch ‘down pat’, seek the guidance of a respected colleague/manager and even better, leverage the guidance of someone who you know the executive/sponsor in questions listens to. Be sure to consider several possible responses to each of your questions/concerns/comments. (Prepare, prepare, prepare!) In Kim Heldman’s PMP, Project Management Professional Exam Study Guide she relays the story of a Project Manager who really battled to tie down her Sponsor for any meetings, urgent or otherwise. She watched his routine in the office and basically followed him down a lift enough times to pitch whatever her most pressing issue was at any point in time until he eventually realized how important consistent, recurring meetings with her were.
  • Adopt a sound organisational change management approach/methodology as part of the way you deliver projects/change in your organisations. A critical component of any organisational change management methodology is the definition of a case for change (which is defined with the executive/leadership team of the project), which leads to the definition and agreement of the leadership responsibilities to achieve the desired change result. This is a fantastic opportunity to not only educate the executives about the critical role that they play in ensuring a successful project result, but you also gain their support and commitment by defining what is in it for them when you do succeed. (The trick is to try and tie the project’s success to their personal success in their individual roles; this is a sure way of ensuring their active participation and support throughout the project life cycle.)
  • Network, network and network some more! The trick to growing your network is to enter into your networking activities with the intention of getting to know people with a view to how you can be of help to them (as opposed to how they can help you). Before you know it you’ll be making meaningful connections all over the place and if and when the need arises for you to ask for help, you’ll have a plethora of options at your disposal. You can use this very network to help influence key stakeholders to support you and thereby set the project up for success.
  • Make it your business to understand the business’s strategy and their current, must-win-battles. If you’re looking for the support of the leadership team or a particular executive, tap into your network (see, I told you this will come in handy) to understand what is important to whom and consider how you could potentially position your project as a catalyst of his/her success in relation to these must-win-battles. This is the art of influencing others.
  • As a Project Manager I strongly recommend that you invest substantial effort into developing your interpersonal skills, as it is assumed that you have these in your arsenal to be able to unlock any of the previous tips and tricks. PMBOK® lists the following as interpersonal skills that every project manager should possess at some level of competency:
    • Leadership (this is a biggie!)
    • Team building
    • Motivation (don’t underestimate how much time you’ll be spending ‘selling concepts’ as a Project Manager, so get this one right sooner rather than later, especially if you are working in an immature environment)
    • Communication (this is pivotal to the success of EVERY project, so it should be stated three times instead of once… communicate, communicate and communicate some more!)
    • Influencing (you will not be able to win any executive over if you do not understand the basics of influencing, which is an art that you really need to hone and should be practiced in conjunction with motivation)
    • Decision making
    • Political and cultural awareness (you learn a lot by networking)
    • Negotiation (again, practice this in conjunction with motivation and influencing… books like Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits for Highly Successful People and Dave Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People are a solid start on this journey)
    • Trust building (this is the reward of promises delivered, so keep delivering and you’ll earn the trust of many)
    • Conflict management
    • Coaching

PM.Ideas has evolved from a company founded in 2001 by a team of entrepreneurial and passionate project managers to the leading global project management, leadership and business skills training provider. We are a company that embraces a strong foundation of commitment, integrity, quality, flexibility and excellence in all that we do.

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