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Wielding Project Management Authority Wisely

Rash assumption of leadership on the part of product managers creates an environment of uncertainty, and can result in the degradation of work ethic and productivity. Therefore, wise project managers will pay special attention to how they portray themselves and the manner in which they execute the tasks for which they are personally responsible.

The primary thing to consider here is the fact that authority, like respect, cannot effectively be taken. Using coercive tactics will only force employees to do the minimum amount required to get an acceptable review. In order to inspire a team, one must earn the respect of all its members.

While it is important to develop a unique and effective style of leadership, grounding personal tactics in an established methodology will project an aura of security and confidence to the team. Generally, unless there is a specific instance requiring radical techniques, consistency will produce far better results than resorting to experimental tactics. Team members who view their manager as having a constant approach will better know both what to expect and what is expected of them.

Strengthening the Circle of Influence

Project managers operate under a circle of influence; though they have a degree of influence over their team members, they rarely have direct control over anyone in particular. While a boss or senior executive may be able to issue decrees and make demands, the project manager does not have quite the same powers of command. Many fail to understand this aspect and walk into project management assuming the role of infallible leader, often inspiring heavy resistance and strained accomplishments.

Team members are not the employees of the project manager, but are rather members of a collaborative, symbiotic team. It is crucial for project managers to think of all team members in this fashion.

To exert influence, then, a good project manager should mind all of the following:

  1. Positive Communication

    Communication will always top the list of vital qualities for effective project management. Developing relationships with team members is critical, and project managers should work to gain the trust of all coworkers. Effective communication can never be achieved through short emails, incessant demands or brief interactions; relationships are slowly developed through consistent interaction and honest behavior.

    Improvement of one’s communication technique does not require any sort of drastic personality change. Instead, subtle variation on existing communicative skills will often have profound results. In his book How to Talk to Anyone, Leil Lowndes relates the story of a young woman who went from an ineffective office personality to a leader seen as personal and inspiring. Her secret? Simply widening her smile when she spoke with people.

    When communicating, effective project managers don’t limit themselves to the role of talker. A project manager must listen to all team members. Listening, learning, and earning the team’s respect by valuing their input and giving credit where it is due will help alleviate any resentment and facilitate collaboration among the group.

  2. Act as an Example

    Acting in contrast to one’s own advice almost always results in a loss of credibility. For a team to respect and subscribe to their project manager’s suggestions, it must be evident that the PM is ready to back them up with action.

    The most effective way to earn authority is to be a project leader that others want to follow. Consistent timeliness, consideration, efficiency, organization and fairness will set an example for others to follow.

  3. Focus on Personal Development

    Personal development encompasses everything from furthering project management education to improving personal health. To gain respect and enhance authority, one must have the knowledge and the capacity to be a true leader. A team will be less likely to trust the judgment of a project manager they see as ill-informed.

    Innovative project managers can access incredible resources through enrolling in webinars, attending classes, or joining a local PMI chapter. These resources will not only make the job easier, but will help demonstrate competence to team members.

    But personal development doesn’t stop there. Health and well-being can also play an enormous role in job performance and work experience. By getting out and exercising a bit more, focusing on eating habits, and making sure those long nights at the office don’t destroy effective work techniques, one can realize huge energy gains, achieve better focus, and attain a more positive outlook.

  4. Effective Delegation

    Understanding when to delegate authority is an important aspect of leading. Knowing the team’s strengths and weaknesses will enable the project manager to pass along tasks and decisions geared for the team members and improve overall efficiency. By doling out responsibility, the project manager not only saves time but empowers others.

    When delegating, it’s important to understand exactly when and to whom power can be entrusted. Not everyone is cut out for a management role, and some are much happier with strict oversight than free rein.

    A person who is excellent at sales, for instance, may not be able to manage effectively. If the project manager doesn’t keep a careful eye on that individual, significant ground may be lost. The delayed processes of the sales cycle may not display issues for up to a year or more, resulting in an expanse of wasted time, resources and opportunities.

    The assignment of small tasks can minimize the risks of mistaken delegation. The project manager should have the individual develop a plan for approval and carry out the work, evaluating performance along the way. As the team member improves, the project manager can increase the task load and/or make more complex assignments.

    Delegating work eases the work burden, but it can also encourage team members to work toward a valued end goal and put their trust in the project manager. They will resent the perceived lack of trust exhibited by a project manager who takes on every task personally.

  5. The Importance of Ethics

    In the end, all one has is honor, and feelings of entitlement can be corruptive. To be a great leader, it’s important for one to acknowledge personal principles and stick by them. Others will respect these convictions and adherence to them will result in personal pride. Belief in oneself, one’s actions and others is necessary for success. Mistakes made with the correct intentions are at least based on strong moral convictions, and can prevent feelings of personal incompetence or failure.

    Project management can be difficult to break into effectively. However, by maintaining constant awareness of one’s actions, the treatment of others and overall work ethic, the aspiring project manager will find that the transition into a leadership role need not be a debilitating task. Effective leadership of this kind has the ability to bring professional reward and personal satisfaction. Further, discovering that one can effectively lead a team to the completion of a project certainly has a positive effect on both the project manager and the team itself, resulting in more confident leadership going forward.

    Adherence to these basic methods of leadership will assure that at the very least, budding project managers can claim with absolute certainty that they have approached the task with their highest personal standard. Even in failure, they can find satisfaction in the knowledge that they attempted the project with honor and had the respect of their team.

Dan Vickers & Curt Finch

Dan Vickers, PMP, is a project leader at CS Stars and has worked with a wide variety of clients in multiple industries: banking, insurance, staffing and manufacturing. He has led hundreds of projects from start to finish. Curt Finch (pictured) is CEO of Journyx, a provider of Web-based time tracking, project accounting and resource management software designed to guide customers to per-person, per-project profitability. Finch is an avid speaker and writer.

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