Guest post by Rick Valerga
What Every New Project Manager Needs to Know About Project Leadership
It was an honor when Josh invited me to provide a guest post on The PM Student. I have really enjoyed reading his work. Of course, Josh reminded me to tailor my content toward more of a beginner audience.
Pssst…here’s the secret….What Every New Project Manager needs to know is the EXACT SAME THING as what Every Expert Project Manager needs to know about project leadership!!
It’s simple. It can be summed up in one word: integrity.
I didn’t know it would strike such a chord, but my book’s definition of integrity has been quoted by a few people. In my book, I write that “Integrity entails being truthful at all times, avoiding deception, and acting ethically in all occasions, especially when no one else is looking.”
Integrity matters most when you face consequences. And if there is one thing that the project world is full of, it’s consequences!
Integrity in the World of Projects
One benefit of integrity is that it is the basis for a virtuous cycle in projects. The product of integrity is trust, which is formed when promises are fulfilled and transparency is present. Over time, trust builds a base of credibility for a project leader. Widely recognized credibility eventually speeds decisions and sponsorship, which helps a project proceed more efficiently and experience greater success.
Furthermore (and even expert PMs will forget this from time to time), as a project manager you need to ensure the success of three major constituencies:
- Your customers (who get the benefit of the project)
- Your team members (who do the investigating, designing, prototyping, and producing)
- Your sponsor (who invests the resources)
If you are going to be efficient at making all 3 successful, you will want to align their interests. And it’s integrity that will help you best align them.
For example, let’s say that your project is fraught with risk and the only acknowledged contingency is overtime work for the team. This plan is probably unsustainable for your team members and their families. Or you’re mid-project and you learn that your product will fall flat in the marketplace. This is a ticking time bomb for your sponsor’s finances.
These are the kinds of situations when you need to have the courage and integrity to bring the issues to light for the good of your project. It may sound easy now. But telling your sponsor that you need to add funding or lengthen schedule with a customer proposal deadline looming, or throwing up a flag that the product isn’t worth another day of investment–these can be downright terrifying events.
So what do I do?
1. Plan. Integrity starts as a consistent thread in your project plan. One that delivers undeniable value to customers, delivers the needed Return on Investment (ROI) for the sponsor, and affords a sane, sustainable work environment for the project team.
2. Never let your project live a lie. For example, if the project is behind schedule with little chance of recovery, your sponsor and customers need to know so that they can make informed decisions.
3. Behave. No doubt, projects are stressful. They will put people’s integrity to the ultimate test. Things will go wrong. And it’s our behaviors as project managers that can get us into the most trouble. The issue avoidance, the innuendo, the drama, the martyrdom, the victimhood, the us-vs-them mentality. These tactics are passed down from project manager to project manager. Please–don’t pick them up!
The Five Core Themes of Project Leadership™
If negative behavior undermines project management, then high-integrity behavior enhances it. The following Five Core Themes of Project Leadership, practiced daily, help you ingrain integrity into all that you do in the project environment. They are the everyday leadership behaviors that help you get the most bang for the buck from your PMBOK theory:
When you are practicing the Five Core Themes regularly, here is what it looks like:
Expectation Management: You and your team make realistic, responsible commitments, even under duress. You deliver tough news in a way that respects the people impacted. You minimize surprises and therefore make it more likely that the project is remembered for success.
Ownership: You avoid victimhood, blame, complaining, and martyrdom. You fully commit to project results and don’t give yourself the back door escape of excuses. You lead change constructively and follow any standing process that you don’t have the energy to modify.
Winning: You are tenacious, but in a way that’s sustainable. You remove fear from the project so that your team can focus on results (sometimes that means “taking the heat”). You don’t permit an infinite loop of overtime work, and you offset work spikes with corresponding dips as appropriate.
Narrative: Communication is not a process for you, it’s a mandate. You consider it essential that stakeholders are aligned to the same story. You drive transparency and risk management into communication. You provide simple updates that are easy to understand.
Eliciting the Best: You don’t just try to get the best from your team, you aim to tap into the highest potential of ALL your stakeholders including customers, managers, and suppliers. You extend planning, trust, and empowerment as far down as possible within the organization. You listen, you compliment in public and critique in private, and you align roles with aspirations.
Again, these project leadership skills are required for both beginning and expert project managers alike. Put them up on your wall. Think about them daily. Weave them into everything you do. And you will make big strides toward becoming a great project leader!
You can learn more about The Five Core Themes of Project Leadership by reading “The Cure for the Common Project”, available on amazon.com.
Rick Valerga is the author of “The Cure for the Common Project: Five Core Themes That Transform Project Managers into Leaders”. He has been invited to speak about project leadership at local and regional project management events, and has been featured in the PM Podcast. His experience spans several technologies and industries, including high-performance electronics hardware, software, aerospace/defense, robotics, and civil engineering. Rick has been been a program and project manager for Agilent Technologies and an officer within the US Navy’s Civil Engineer Corps. He obtained his Project Management Professional (PMP) certification in 2003 and holds a BS in Systems Engineering from the US Naval Academy (Annapolis, MD) and an MS in Electrical Engineering from Stanford University.
I also offer online project management training for you!