Having hard skills, such as expertise in project scheduling tools and budget software, is critical to project success. However, soft skills that make you an effective leader are just as important. You may take your leadership skills for granted, but it's important to hone them and pay attention to what your team responds to.
Strong leadership skills distinguish project managers and project leaders. The difference? People have to follow managers, but they want to follow leaders. Being an effective leader helps ensure that the whole team is engaged in the vision and invested in reaching the finish line.
But what does leadership look like? There are three practices that can help you strengthen or shift your current management style to keep your projects goals and team dynamics in sync.
1. Communicate Project Goals Continuously
You probably have a team meeting at the start of a major initiative, but how often do you level set and remind everyone of what the ultimate goals are? Nobody's perfect. People forget. It sounds trite, but it's true. You might travel the same highway every day, but without signs marking the exits, your distracted brain might let you drive to the next county instead of getting off at your work exit.
Does your team know or remember what this project is really for? As a leader, it's your responsibility to remind them, often. People might grumble when you rattle off the same milestones for the third week in a row, but they won't forget them. Also, if anyone is holding up the project, this is a great way to remind them others are counting on their deliverable so that the project can move forward.
Having structured team meetings allows you to breeze through goals and recognize team accomplishments because setting the scene helps people visualize their contribution to the finished product. If you feel like slides and flip charts are for just for the boardroom, you are wasting an opportunity to punctuate challenges and victories with visual reminders. If the team is co-located, leave these up on the walls. If not, consider handing out project binders with goals and timelines clearly laid out.
2. Keep Office Politics Out of Team Meetings
There are a lot of layers to this point. The bottom line is that resources need to do their jobs. Letting personality conflicts fester isn't wise, but when people speak out about team members or other co-workers during team meetings, it's demoralizing and a waste of precious time better spent focusing on goals.
Nobody likes to babysit adults, but sometimes you have to pull people aside to see what's going on. In order to work effectively, team members need open mental space free of personal turf wars. On the other hand, while it's good practice to encourage the team to communicate any conflicts to you, no one needs to know that the marketing manager is bombarding you with stupid questions or that your boss isn't grooming you for success.
With these factors in mind, talk to your team. Schedule regular one-on-one to make sure everyone knows they have someone to turn to if there's a problem. What politics are happening that you didn't know about? Find out how can you help.
3. Management by Walking Around (MBWA)
This silly sounding technique actually works and it's easy if you let it be. Going around to check in on each team member doesn't have to seem forced. Besides, the more you do it, the more comfortable everyone will be.
Walk around the office and say hello to the team. Let them voice their challenges and vent if needed. It's a cheap way to boost morale and improve communication. Most people appreciate the effort and many use this time to bring you up to speed on critical deliverables. Do you have a virtual team or does someone work remotely on a regular basis? No problem, send a Skype message or open a video chat to see how things are going.
Although it's important to focus on work, a quick chat about the weekend isn't unwelcome. Try to do this with each team member at least weekly. Acknowledging little things can help form bonds that lead to a more successful project. If there's something you can think of to thank them do so. There's no need to limit praise to project milestones. Great ideas, creative problem solving and conflict negotiation are all great candidates to thank a team member for their help.
Effective Leadership Wins the Day
You already know a lot of work in required to be a successful leader and keep the project on track. Managing project timelines and the expectations of stakeholders is critical. The techniques above help you to be an inspirational and effective leader that your team can count on.
Guarantee that you'll be above to count on them when it's most important.
About the Author: Jeff Poirior
Jeff brings 25 years of telecommunications and information technology management experience in voice and data networking, server support, and telephony and security; with a significant emphasis on customer service. Prior to joining Valicom, he was chief of the infrastructure support section for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. Jeff was the vice president of operations for CC&N, overseeing telecommunications, help desk, data and desk side support services. Prior to that, he served as the associate director of technical resources for Covance, responsible for managing systems and network operations supporting 1700 users in Wisconsin and Virginia. He has also led data center operations at Magnetek Electric, supporting mainframe systems, client/server applications, telephony systems, and computer-aided design. Jeff holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Cardinal Stritch University and a master’s degree in business administration from University of Phoenix. In addition, Jeff is a past board member of the Wisconsin Telecommunication Association.