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Developing Your Team’s Leadership Skills

Andy Kaufman, PMP recently participated in an interview on The Project Management Podcast. PMPs can earn 30 free PDUs by listening to the entire series of podcasts. Kaufman is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP) from the Institute for Leadership Excellence & Development (www.i-leadonline.com), specializing in the development of project leadership skills; that is, what PM leaders can do to help their team members take on more leadership responsibilities. One important trait of a project leader is the desire and ability to help others lead.

Developing Leadership Skills

It is important to a project’s success that there is focus on developing leadership skills among the team. Just because there is a group of people working together it doesn’t make them a team. When the team is formed there will be conflict even among the most congenial group - issues about how to do things, personality clashes and other minor issues that can become bigger than you expect. Problems aren’t usually foreseen but they should be; there is always conflict when two or more people are thrown together and expected to cooperate to achieve a positive result. These conflicts should be anticipated and dealt with before they can disrupt the group dynamics.

Junior project managers who get their first team usually have an overwhelming moment when they wonder how they are going to lead and what they should focus on. Kaufman observes that, “we think we can’t ask for help because if we ask for help then we’re showing that we’re weak. And we need to show that we’re not weak. And what I find is in fact you have to be careful on how you ask for help. I mean you have to do your part of it for sure, but the advice that I would give somebody who’s a new project leader is network with other people that have been doing it longer. I’m amazed at how much people are willing to help.” Asking for help or advice is the mark of a mature leader who has the interests of his or her group at heart.

This is good advice for both junior and senior PMs. People get set in their ways and it’s good to have others sit in on your meetings and critique your style. Constructive criticism can keep us going what we do well and correcting habits that may contribute towards impeding our teams from doing their best. New perspectives can help you improve your style and techniques.

Developing Trust

Andy Kaufman has a unique approach to the trust that a team needs to develop with each other in order to be effective. He agrees that trust is a key to success but disagrees with the tools and exercises generally used to create that trust. He states, “I was at a company and they said: “We’re going to develop trust.” And I was ‘how’s that going to be?’ They said: “Pair off. One of you close your eyes and the other person is going to hold on to your elbow and lead you around the room while you have your eyes closed and this will develop trust. I have to tell you… the whole time I had my eyes closed walking around the room, I was thinking to myself that this is the stupidest exercise I’ve ever gone through. I didn’t develop trust.”

Establishing purpose is the beginning of trust rather than the usual mundane, run of the mill exercises. The team needs to understand why they are doing the project so that they know how they fit into the overall project structure. If they understand how the project impacts the business and what their roles and responsibilities are they will develop trust naturally. Trust is like a concentric ring with purpose at the center; the next ring is accountability and that leads naturally to the third ring, which is trust. The components of trust - ability, intent and integrity - are the offshoots of accountability. This cause and effect theory has served Kaufman’s purpose of establishing trust within a team much better than established “trust” exercises.

Setting Guidelines

Another unusual technique Kaufman uses to develop teams and their leadership skills is a team charter. The PMBOK Guide states that a project charter is needed before a project can be started but a team charter is just as important. A project charter makes it clear why the team is there while a team charter outlines the roles and responsibilities of the members. A project cannot go smoothly if people don’t know exactly what is expected of them; RACI charts are ideal for this purpose. The third component is values; what does this group value as a team? It might be respect, punctuality or any number of things that the team agrees that in indispensable to their effectiveness. The last aspect of a team charter are performance indicators, the signposts that let the team know they are successful at every stage of the project. This builds moral and cohesiveness and thus greatly contributes toward successful leadership.

The source for this article is an interview between Andy Kaufman, PMP and Cornelius Fichtner, PMP on episode 185 of The Project Management Podcast. You can listen to the entire interview and hear more of Andy Kaufman’s creative techniques at www.project-management-podcast.com.

About the author: Cornelius Fichtner, PMP is a noted PMP expert. He is the host of The Project Management Podcast and The Project Management PrepCast where he has helped over 15,000 students prepare for the PMP Exam.

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