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No matter the topic of your project, it will be more successful if the project leader utilizes winning leadership traits. As our HR mentor used to say, "It begins and ends with people!"
Therefore, leadership is the name of the game, assuming you want to win the game. In project management, this is even more critical because most project teams are groups of cross-functional resources who do not report to the same line manager. Thus, the project leader has to use influence leadership in addition to command and control leadership. Actually, command and control leadership doesn't even work long-term for those who are "the top dog"; thus, these traits are even more important to learn.
Although there are countless traits that go into being an effective leader, these are the ones I've seen the best leaders across our clients employ:
- Demonstrates passion
Even the most exciting of topics can become humdrum if the leader doesn't show passion. Each project team member is typically working outside of their typical routine. Often, the project leader cannot significantly impact the employee's pay or bonus. Thus, passion becomes even more important. If the leader is excited about the results that can be achieved, each team member is likely to become excited as well.
For example, when I was a VP of Operations and Supply Chain, our CEO was passionate about what we could achieve with new products, reduced costs, new markets and the like. At the time, I was responsible for a cross-functional team in the thick of whether we'd achieve these lofty goals. We had barely avoided bankruptcy and had to work long hours just to keep things going. Without his passion for these topics, it is likely we would have lost motivation as well. We knew there were no bonuses or raises until we got the ship turned around which wouldn't happen overnight. What kept me from leaving was his passion and excitement about the future – and my contributions to it.
Don't underestimate the importance of passion.
- Creates a vision
Although passion is important, it cannot be successful without going hand in hand with the vision. Executives with passion but without vision are just seen as aimless and not worthy of following. Since leaders should forge the way, this trait is rather essential. Create a vision of where you are going and why.
In my last example, the CEO created a vision of being the best provider of incontinence care. Think about what type of diaper you'd want your Grandma to use. One that was absorbent and made her feel better and almost like she wasn't wearing a pull-up or diaper or a leaky, inexpensive one. At the same time, since it is your Grandma, how much do we want her to pay for this pull-up? Perhaps we should find a way to make it better yet cost less for her. Now we are talking.
- Focuses on the critical path
When it comes to projects, it is easy to work hard yet not get far. There are always hundreds of tasks that need to be completed. People to appease. How do we accomplish this with a part-time, cross-functional team of people who report to different leaders? Spend the time upfront to put together the project plan so that you can focus the 80/20 of your energy on just the critical path. Instead of wasting time following up on every task, follow up on just those on the critical path. These are the ones that will keep the most important elements going.
For example, in the cross-functional team that had to redesign the incontinence product so that it would perform better while cost less, there were countless tasks involving not only every department but also customers, suppliers and other partners. Since we had a small team (certainly not adding people, following a near escape from bankruptcy), we had to work smarter; not harder. Thus, we focused in on just the critical path. If these tasks didn't get accomplished, the rest wouldn't matter. You had to finish or at least make progress on these tasks in order for the next critical path task to be accomplished successfully. When we used extra resources, we focused them on the critical path. If we invested money, we would focus it on the critical path. The rest would have to sink or swim on its own. The bottom line was to focus on priorities.
Since no executive or project team has extra time, money or resources, we must make good use of what we have to ensure success. And, since leadership is the 80/20 of success, it has proven successful to focus in on creating, nurturing and encouraging winning leadership traits in our project managers. Give these a try and let me know how it goes.