Not all projects are created equal, and they shouldn’t be treated that way. Every business, team structure, personality type, and end goal will vary. So how does one learn to be a leader? What exactly does that mean? Here are some important nuggets to keep in mind.
You are defined by how you are perceived
When you walk into a room with the team working on your project, you owe them respect. These are the executors who will be doing all the work. Their expertise is invaluable and their mental state (at least at work) will affect your end result. It is important to let your team know that you will respect their expertise, skill sets, and even their feelings. You must be perceived as a supporting role in their everyday work lives. You must work hard every day to not swoop in and micromanage. You must allow the team to thrive. The team will grow to respect your role as a cheerleader, barrier-breaker, and time manager, rather than someone bossing them around or getting in the way.
You don’t know everything
No matter how many projects you’ve worked on, or how many companies you’ve worked for, there is always something new to learn. Remember that there will always be someone who knows more than you. Embrace it. Be thankful you have someone to learn from. Letting others teach you is a wonderful way to gain the trust of those around you. They will see that you are not all ego, but accepting to a new way of doing things. You will take that knowledge and apply it when the time is right.
Adapt or die
“We’ve always done it this way,” are famous last words. Tried and true, or old ways of doing things, should be constantly reviewed and evaluated. Maybe those ways do get the job done, but could they be better? Are other areas evolving? Do those departments touch your process? Although you are in a convenient position to do so, as a project manager it can be difficult to have the credibility behind you to encourage change. At the very least, ask the questions needed to properly evaluate if the old way is the best way for your project.
“Type A” only gets you so far
As much as we try, we can’t control people’s behavior. So when we think all the T’s have been crossed and the I’s dotted…we could be dead wrong! People are volatile. We’re human. Focus on deliverables and deadlines, but always build in a buffer. If a timeline is tight to begin with, you’re already increasing your risk of not delivering on time and on-budget. Saying things like “No one can get sick in the month of February” is not a viable option…but it would be nice! People are the variable. They will make or break your project and, of course, they’re the area you have the least control over in your planning process. Get used to it!
Therapy, therapy therapy!
Whether you like it or not, leaders are therapists. Some project managers should probably bill for the counsel they’ve provided during the tough times on their projects. It might not be fair, but this is a common occurrence. Times get tough, vision and direction could change mid-project. All your hard work could be completely thrown away. If you have team members who care about what they do, there will be some emotion. It’s your job to ensure your team is in good emotional spirits to the best of your ability by listening and providing guidance and clarity on next steps. Cheerlead them out of their slump and into a new direction or situation.