We are taught that great leaders are fair but stern, collaborative but focused, flexible but driven. They are stubborn and not easily swayed. Well, I’m here to tell you that may not be project management reality for you if you really plan to be a successful project leader.
Certainly you need to stick to decisions that are made and plans that are confirmed. You need to be consistent and resilient in front of your project team and customer and senior leadership if you want to be taken seriously as a good leader and a person deserving of their respect and following. What that doesn't mean is that you need to stick to your guns no matter what, going down with the ship just because you were too stubborn – or stupid – to listen to others or change your mind because you thought that might make you appear weak. We all know that a sign of confidence and strength is also admitting when you're wrong, welcoming the input and ideas of others and working toward making this current project the best it can possibly be.
To that end, here are some tips to keep in mind – areas where you may need to be a bit flexible in order to be the real leader you need to be and help make sure that your project is successful and that you live to talk about it and bask in the glory...
Accept input from everyone. Asking for help, information or decision-making input is not a sign of weakness. It's a sign of experience and a sign that you know what you're doing. A project manager who neglects to include his team, stakeholders and the customer in key decisions will lose the respect of those he is supposed to be leading. Have you heard of mutiny? That's likely what you'll be facing if you do it alone. Communication is a priority for the project manager and communication is definitely a two-way street.
Spread the work around. Delegate. When the going gets tough, the tough don't take on everything themselves. Spread the work around – utilise the entire team... the project team, look to the end user community if needed. But don't try to do it alone... it won't be successful. The best teams work together to get through issues, to utilise best practises and end with a successful project – together.
Be flexible. The methodology may call for one action, but if everyone knows that is not what is needed here, then go a different direction and make it happen. Rigidity and adherence to rules and a methodology against all odds is not going to end well for anyone. Thinking outside the box is often the best call – even if it means going through uncharted territory and using processes, technology or practises that haven't been used before by the team or in the organisation. If it's the likely best direction to take, then take it.
Recognise problems and go to the customer and senior leadership when needed. Basically, this one translates into being transparent. I believe that the best project managers are transparent whenever possible. Bad news? Share it with the customer. Don't dump it on them – think it over first and quickly discuss amongst your team. When you come with bad news it's always best to show that you're at least thinking in terms of the best fix, option or workaround. But don't wait too long – if the customer doesn't find out the bad news from you then, it can end up being very bad for you. The same goes for your senior leadership. Transparency and quick information sharing are critical.
Summary/call for input
The bottom line really is all about being flexible when that is what is best for your project. And good leaders recognise when that is. It's ok to ask for help and input. Don't shy away from the difficult situations, but don't face them alone either.
Readers – what are your thoughts on this? What makes project managers great and how stubborn should they be? Please share your thoughts on this and give examples of successes or failures as a result.