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Leadership Tips for Project Managers

Leadership Tips for Project Managers – Part 2

By Mike Griffiths
March 22, 2023

Welcome to part two of this four-part series introducing basic leadership ideas that any project manager or Scrum master can employ. Be sure to see article one that explains leadership for project managers and outlines the five leadership components covered in the series.

This second article builds on from the “Model the way” leadership attribute introduced in part one and digs deeper into diversity, inclusion, and servant leadership.

Support Diversity and Inclusion

(Seek and encourage diversity and inclusion)

The benefits of diversity and inclusions are widespread and well documented. This link provides a helpful list of diversity research, which cites the following project team advantages:

  • Fewer blind spots – Diversity brings more insights and viewpoints to all discussions.
  • Improved risk management – A wider range of experiences allows for identifying a broader set of scenarios that may happen.
  • Better customer empathy – Diverse teams have higher levels of empathy and are more likely to relate with a diverse customer base than a monoculture team.
  • Better decision making – With more insights and viewpoints, a more extensive set of options and alternatives are evaluated, and more robust decisions made.

Outside the project team, the research listed above also shows the following organizational benefits:

  • Lower employee turnover
  • Higher employee job satisfaction
  • Boosting company reputation
  • Lower instances of fraud

So, beyond the moral justification for increasing diversity and inclusion, there are clearly many business benefits. Once we acknowledge these benefits, the next question becomes, “How do we increase diversity and inclusion in our projects?”

Diversity and Inclusion How-To’s

The following list of steps is a primary starting point. Project managers should also consult their own organization’s policies on Diversity and Inclusion. If they are lacking, consider lobbying for more. The benefits are well documented, and the principles justified.

  • Recognize that change starts with us – We have to embrace diversity and inclusion to have any conviction or energy to effect meaningful changes.
  • Education and awareness – learn and teach how diversity is not just gender, race, and religion. It also includes age, language, disability, culture, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, and other factors.
  • Expand recruiting – do not just use the typical recruiting sources – that will return the usual candidates. Consider online job boards, community colleges, and offering relocation packages to attract more diverse candidates.
  • Review job post wording – watch for masculine type language such as “ambitious” and “dominate.” These terms may be less appealing to female applicants.
  • Offer flexibility – accommodating different working hours can help people with childcare requirements or those health issues. It also allows for a better general work-life balance.
  • Floating holidays – provide flexibility for differing religious preferences.
  • Strengthen anti-discrimination policies – ensure diversity and inclusion are taken seriously and infractions are dealt with appropriately.
  • Tools choice and training – Some project tool choices might favor demographics that are already familiar with them (Kik, TikTok, Slack). Do not assume everyone will be familiar with them and provide training as required.
  • Create inclusive workplaces – provide nursing rooms, prayer rooms and whatever other space people need or want to feel included.
  • Strengthen anti-discrimination policies – create an open dialog about pay inequalities. Make sure you listen to your employees and provide leadership opportunities.

If this sounds like a lot of work, maybe you are working somewhere that needs a lot of work doing on it? Now workplace reviews are openly posted online, and roles more temporary, the workforce is more mobile than ever. Organizations that do not take diversity and inclusion seriously will lose the war for talent.

Servant Leadership

(Become the bridge to success for others)

Servant leadership was popularized by Robert Greenleaf and described a mindset and set of practices. It flips the power pyramid, so instead of the team working to serve the leader, the leader supports the team.

Servant leadership is a mindset and value system. It is based on recognizing that the team members deliver the project benefits, so the best thing a project manager can do is serve the team and help them succeed. This maximizes the amount of value they can produce and increases the capabilities and capacity of the group.

Project managers can practice servant leadership by shielding the team from interruptions, removing obstacles from their path, and ensuring the team has what they need to encourage growth. Let’s review each competency in more detail.

1) Shield the team from interruptions – A critical role of a leader is to let the team do their work. Distractions and low-priority interruptions can come from many sources. They might be requests from superfluous sources or demands for low-priority admin work. Even quick interruptions cause task-switching and interrupting the flow of the team.

Special-ops and Skunkworks teams have been effective and highly productive partly because they were separated and shielded from interruptions. So, see what you can do to keep the team protected from low-priority or non-value adding activities.

2) Remove Obstacles – Clearing the path of impediments, obstacles, and constraints is a vital role for a servant leader. It involves both observing the team and listening to them report issues, concerns, or frustrations. Then, remove these blockers and ease the constraints so that team members can be more effective and deliver value.

For example, during a daily stand-up meeting or team meeting, someone reports delays due to a slow-performing tool and delays from a vendor. The project manager can take on the role of investigating tool upgrades or following-up with the vendor. The project manager is serving the team, doing what they can to assist with the smooth operation and maximum throughput of work.

3) (Re)Communicate the project vision – a critical role of a project leader is to communicate and re-communicate the project vision. By creating a clear image of the completed solution and project goals, stakeholders can check and align their decisions and work towards the common project objective. This is the “Reveal a beckoning summit towards which others can chart their own course” Idea. Put simply, a common vision helps keep people pulling in the same direction.

When busy executing a project, it is common for divergent views to develop between well-intentioned team members. Team members’ desires for simplicity or to try new technology can diverge from business requirements. Quality analysts’ desires for completeness and conformance can separate from the sponsor’s wishes for rapid progress and completion.

Jim Collins in Good to Great writes that a trait of Level 5 Leaders (the most effective and leaders of great companies) d to dedicate a much higher percentage of the work time to communicating and re-communicating project and corporate vision. Kouzes and Posner believe it is almost impossible for leaders to over communicate project vision and it is a critical step for effective leadership.

So, don’t have just one vision exercise at project kick-off and then assume you are done. Continually look for opportunities to communicate the project vision and new ways to illustrate and reinforce that vision.

4) Provide fuel and encourage growth – People need encouragement and support to try new things and deliver in challenging environments. Servant leaders provide what they need, whether that’s help with a new tool, an introduction to a customer, or just some kind words of encouragement. Help make them successful as best you can.

We need to celebrate small victories (and, of course, major accomplishments) as we go. It is tempting to save the project celebrations to the end, but we may never meet a successful end without some regular recognition. Celebrations and recognition are momentum building exercises. We need to practice them frequently so obstacles can be broken through, and the final project goals accomplished.

Servant leaders look for opportunities to grow the capabilities of the team members. This may be through mentoring, training, or providing a safe environment for people to try new skills or roles. When we show an interest in our team members’ long-term success, two powerful benefits occur.

First, the team members will appreciate the interest in them beyond just filling a role. When people see the opportunity for personal growth, they are far more likely to be motivated to contribute. Second, by growing the team’s capabilities, we are increasing the organization’s capabilities and worth. Subsequent projects and operational work will benefit.

Putting these roles together, servant leaders facilitate rather than manage. They shield the team from interruptions, clear the path for the team, frequently remind everyone of the destination and provide encouragement and sustenance for long term success.

In part three of the series, we will explore different leadership styles, examine motivation, and dissect psychological safety – a critical component for creating high performing teams.

[Source: This article is a sample from “PMillustrated: A Visual Learner’s Guide to Project Management.” That illustrates project management concepts to people who like to see the big picture and explore content graphically.]

Mike Griffiths

Mike Griffiths is an experienced project manager, author and consultant who works as a subject matter expert for PMI. Before joining PMI, Mike consulted and managed innovation and technology projects throughout Europe, North and South America for 30+ years. He was co-lead for the PMBOK Guide—Seventh Edition, lead for the Agile Practice Guide, and contributor to the PMI-ACP and PMP exam content outlines. Outside of PMI, Mike maintains the websites www.leadinganswers.com  about leading teams and www.pmillustrated.com, which teaches project management to visual learners.]

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Disclaimer: The ideas, views, and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of International Institute for Learning or any entities they represent.

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