Are you an effective project leader?

The topic of project leadership is both broad and deep and much pen, paper and online text has been devoted to helping us to become better project managers. The successful project manager is expected to be an equal blend of inspirational leader, precision driven timekeeper, empathetic coach and arch negotiator. This is all very well, but most of us are not born with those qualities. This blog will give you 3 technical tips, that may inspire you on your journey to project leadership excellence.

  1. Tip number one is to ‘be the orchestra conductor’. What I mean by that is, when you visualize an orchestra conductor, you see him facing his team and he has a score sheet in front of him and he’s ensuring that each team member understands the score and knows what their role on the team is. His job is to ensure that the beginning, the middle, and the end of the piece that they’re playing is played effectively and in harmony.
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Think of yourself as the orchestra conductor, with your project charter or your A3 sheet as the score sheet. Your role as project leader is to ensure that each team member is assigned a role to play on the project team in order to bring the project through to completion. Roles that you may give to your team members would include data collection; taking process measurement and graphing the results; researching best practice sites to visit; seeking similar case studies online to imitate (as appropriate and relevant); performing experiments to pilot particular improvements; updating process guidelines and control plans etc. etc. etc.

If you are embedded and preoccupied with the project tasks yourself, you will lose sight of your team and they will drift away from the project goals and timelines and lose interest. Face the team, keep them on track with the project goals and plan, and delegate as much as possible.

2. Tip number two is appoint a project administrator. This will be a gift to you as a project leader. The role of the project administrator is to arrange all team meetings, in other words, book the room; send the agenda out to all the participants is advance, and follow up within 24 hours with the minutes of each meeting. You may also wish the administrator to update A3 sheets and Gantt charts etc. The administrator is your right-hand person in the project who helps you to stick to timelines and provides vital administrative support. He or she will free up your time to engage in the necessary progress reviews with stakeholders and relationship building within the team.

When briefing the project administrator ask her or him to ensure that the agenda is brief and action/responsible/due date oriented. Always include the project goals as a standard element at the top of the agenda. This helps to re-focus the team at the start of every meeting.

You may be thinking “If I’m not doing the project tasks and I’m not administering the project, what am I doing as project leader?” A big part of being a project leader is relationship building and communication.

3. Tip number three is communicate, communicate, communicate. It is a much lesser sin to over communicate on a project than to under communicate. The people to whom you should communicate on a regular basis include primarily your own team members, your sponsor and key stakeholders.

You will not know what the team members are really thinking, and how much they can contribute to the project, unless you make time for occasional one-on-one conversations. This can be in the canteen over coffee, or at their desk if you have sufficient privacy. Team members thrive when appreciated and wither when neglected. The last thing you want is team discontent leading to criticism of yourself as leader. It’s much easier to prevent this than to cure it.

Another key person in your project communication network is of course the project sponsor. He or she holds the purse strings, and often stand to lose or gain image wise and career wise from the results of your project. Be aware of this and keep the project sponsor updated on project progress. If you were encountering problems, be sure to flag these in good time with the sponsor. He or she may be able to help you to resolve them.

Talk regularly with other key stakeholders, such as the manager and supervisors in the area where the project is taking place. Also perhaps talk to suppliers and customers if they are stakeholders in the project. You may not wish to communicate process problems to customers, however, when the project is successfully completed, you may wish to communicate to them a process feature that you have that guarantees them better service or quality.

In summary the 3 technical tips to being a more effective project leader are:

  1. Be the orchestra conductor
  2. Appoint an administrator, and
  3. Communicate, communicate, communicate.

I hope that you find these helpful and please be sure to leave a comment on the LinkedIn blog if you’d like to share your own sure-fire tip.

Lean Ireland offers interactive and tailored online lean six sigma project management courses. If you’d like a quote for yellow belt, green belt or black belt certification course, please be sure to contact us.

© Bernie Rushe, BSc, CPIM, Dip SA, MSc, Black Belt
Bernie@LeanIreland.ie, +353-87-2837810

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