Sunday, November 27, 2011

Leadership Skills at all Levels for Project Success

Talking about successful projects, one aspect that comes to everyone’s mind is leadership skill needed to drive the project. When we talk of leadership skills, we normally attribute it to senior management at the programme or organisational level. What we do not realise is that leadership is actually required or rather necessary at all levels of the organisation hierarchy.
Before dealing with what leadership skills are required at all levels, let us first try to understand what leadership is and what is expected out of a leader. Though, writing about leadership and its skills will itself require a separate dedicated forum and there are a huge number of books dealing only with leadership, we shall understand the key element before we can deal with leadership at multiple levels.
Leadership is what helps the overall business objective(s) to be achieved by leading people and teams to achieve the goals by enabling them to realise themselves as part of the common goal or objective. So, from a project point of view, the ability of the leader is to guide the project team to achieve the project objectives and help balance the project constraints.
Leadership at different levels
So, there is no doubt that leadership is a trait required at all levels, so that the results are accumulated right from the floor level till the top ranks. Though, leadership is mostly discussed and referred to the top level, ironically, it is even more important at the floor level.
In general, there are some core points that leadership should address:
1)      Ensuring that the business objectives are well understood, clear and executed well enough to achieve the business goals.
2)      Communicate throughout the ranks and hierarchy to ensure that there is common direction, objectives and goals.
3)      Facilitate the team to achieve the goals by –
a.       Building the right team.
b.      Creating an environment to collaborate, communicate and work together.
c.       Motivating the team to take calculated risks by enabling a nurturing environment that allows mistakes to happen as a learning experience and improve further.
d.      Creating a positive environment of rewards and recognition where exceptional and good performance is recognised and rewarded.
These skills are generic and need to be applied at all levels. What would vary is the way and the scale to which they are applied. These are therefore even more important at small team levels which are building blocks of the whole project team and of the organisation as a whole.
Technical Team Level
Here the team lead’s role should be not only of ensuring that the project module or target is achieved, but also to create a team that is efficient and reliable. For this, the team lead should motivate the team, should keep them connected and communicate the bigger picture so they all feel part of the whole project, reward the team members and handle conflicts in an appropriate and responsible manner. He should also direct the team to follow processes, values and ethics to help the project and the organisation at a broader perspective. This fundamental approach can go a long way to not only improve productivity but also reduce attritions.
Project Manager Level
No wonder a lot has already been talked about a project manager’s leadership capabilities. As a leader, the project manager should not only process technical knowledge of handling the project, but also be well equipped functionally to manage the project well. He should apply the project management knowledge across all knowledge areas. The project manager’s personal effectiveness, attitude, personality and the ability to guide the team while balancing the project constraints all adds up to his leadership skills. It also includes how well the overall programme objectives are understood to help achieve the project objectives. This has a direct impact of letting the project team understand their role and importance in completing the project and make them feel as a part of the overall programme. The project manager should be adept at handling resource constraints within the project, in managing resource conflicts and creating a positive environment in the team.
Programme Manager Level
A programme manager should align the overall portfolio or organisational strategic direction to all related projects in a programme. To achieve this, the programme manager should ensure that all projects within a programme are achieving the overall programme objective. He/she should resolve resource constraints or conflicts at a programme level that can affect multiple projects. The programme manager should be capable of resolving issues and change management within a shared governance structure. In doing so, he/she should communicate the right message across all the project managers in his programme. He/she should also provide a clear direction to all his project managers.
The role of the PMO
The PMO or the Programme Management Office can play a vital role as a leadership team. Apart from administrative tasks such as managing resource sharing across the programme, administrating and developing project management methodologies, best practices and standards, monitoring compliance with project management standards, policies and templates, they can play a bigger role. They should facilitate in initiating leadership across the programme by being leaders as an example. They can facilitate in providing the right kind of direction, communication and team building across the programme by working more closely with all the managers. They should provide mentoring, coaching of both hard and soft skills to make better managers and leaders. They can do this by creating the right environment and training.
For this, they themselves need to be more disciplined, innovative, take initiatives, and lead by example. They can justify the PMO as a cost centre by measuring the return on investment not only monetarily but also as a creator of value addition.

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