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Leadership Tips for Project Managers – Part 4

Leadership Tips for Project Managers – Part 4

By Mike Griffiths
April 5, 2023

Welcome to part four, the last installment of this series introducing basic leadership ideas that any project manager or Scrum master can employ. Be sure to see articles one, two, and three, which cover topics including how leadership differs from management, servant leadership, and team motivation.

This article explains influence, power and how project managers can create empowered teams that tap into the Drive motivators of autonomy, mastery and purpose. It also covers challenging the status quo and making improvements by running experiments.

Analyze Team Member's and Stakeholder's Influence

(Determine and act intelligently around influence)

Understanding influence is a crucial skill for navigating successful relationships. It helps us determine who to spend the most time listening to and how to best communicate on the project. As a project manager, our own influence travels in many directions. It goes upwards (senior management), downwards (team or specialists), outwards (external), and sideways (project manager’s peers).

The Salience Classification Model is a way to classify influence based on the three attributes of

  • Power – their authority
  • Legitimacy – how appropriate their involvement is in the project.
  • Urgency – their immediate need

Where these influence circles overlap, we get subgroups of Core, Dominant, Dangerous and Dependent. Stakeholders in the central Core area need the most attention since they have power, legitimacy, and urgency. Your project sponsor would be an example of someone with Core influence.

As we move further away from the Core, the strategies for working with people can flex based on their influence and the project needs. Stakeholders in the Dominant, Dangerous, and Dependent regions still need plenty of attention since they mix two influence factors. The outer Dormant, Discretionary and Demanding groups would typically be served third, behind the other groups.

The Salience Model is a useful classification tool. It helps us consider stakeholders based on their level of authority (Power), how appropriate their involvement is in terms of the project (Legitimacy), and their immediate needs (Urgency.) However, in real-life, personalities often have a strong influence on how much attention we need to dedicate to them to be effective.

Also, the areas of overlap are not that intuitive to people. So, you might spend as long explaining the model to someone unfamiliar with it as you do discuss strategies to work with people. A simpler model is the Power Interest Grid.

The Power Interest Grid groups stakeholders based on their authority levels (power) and interest in the project.

During the Stakeholder Analysis of a project, we:

  • Determine which stakeholders to manage closely and which will require less effort.
  • Determine the level of participation required from each stakeholder.
  • Document the interests and motivations of stakeholders in a project.
  • Identify the stakeholders that can make the project unsuccessful.
  • Look for any conflicting interests and relationships between stakeholders.
  • Determine communication strategies and medium best suited for each stakeholder.

This analysis helps us focus our time and energy on the stakeholders who can make or break the project. It also allows us to create a communication and stakeholder strategy.

Distinguish Between Various Options to Lead Team Members and Stakeholders

(Putting the theories to use)

After categorizing our stakeholders and understanding the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivators, we still need to lead the team. Some team members will likely be competent, diligent and a pleasure to work with. Others, not so much.

To maximize our chances of success, we should work diligently to create a positive environment and be proactive about tackling conflict when arguments go beyond constructive disagreement. Other factors, such as creating a sense of solidarity/cohesion within the team, providing regular recognition and rewards, along with leading with emotional intelligence, all play an essential role.

For the remainder of this section, we will focus on a couple of topics not mentioned in the list above. These are challenging the process and providing recognition and rewards.

Challenge the Process

Challenging the process may sound rebellious, and that’s a deliberate motivating strategy. We should always encourage teams to innovate, grow and improve. However, “continuous improvement” may sound lame or too much like hard work to some people. “Challenge the process” – that’s something I can get behind!

We can identify improvements by asking the team for suggestions, looking at problem areas and sources of waste. Then through small-scale experiments, try the suggested new approach in a controlled environment. If it works, then great, we can try larger tests and make the process standard. If it fails, what can we learn from this? Is there a better way and what should we try next?

Agile approaches can use the regularly scheduled retrospective workshops to look for improvements and define experiments for the upcoming iteration. The frequent reviews and short development cycle times make it simple to build improvement into the regular process.

There is nothing to stop hybrid and traditional approach projects from also scheduling regular reviews and improvement trials. It just takes a little more planning. Phase gate and milestone reviews provide good opportunities, as do end- of- quarter lookbacks.

During these reviews, the basic topics to review include:

  1. What went well?
  2. Where do we have opportunities for improvement?
  3. What experiments should we try in the next period?

Another tool we can use is an Action Wheel. Drawn on a whiteboard, the quadrants of a wheel are labeled: “Do More of”, “Do Less of”, “Start Doing”, “Stop Doing” as shown below:

The format used is less important than ensuring we regularly engage the team in ways to improve. Then, once practical ideas have been suggested, follow-through on some experiments. Asking for improvements and then ignoring them is a sure-fire way to disengage people.

Teams can bring better visibility to their ideas and experiments by using boards (information radiators) to show content, progress, and outcomes.

Ideas and Experiments Board (Image Credit: Trent Hone and Andrew Jarding, Mind Settlers)

As well as creating better processes for your organization, challenging the process also builds your team’s sense of autonomy. When people help define how they work, they feel a stronger sense of ownership and commitment to it, which is a powerful motivator.

Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose

Daniel Pink author of “Drive: The Surprising Truth about what Motivates Us,“ explains people are motivated by the internal concepts of:

  • Autonomy
  • Mastery
  • Purpose.

Autonomy means giving people control over how they work. Including control over:

  • Task – the work they do and how they undertake it.
  • Time – when they choose to work in the day, week, year.
  • Technique – How they perform tasks and from where.
  • Team – How they organize, interact, and collaborate.

Experiments, retrospectives, lessons learned and challenging the process all contribute to building a sense of autonomy for work.

Mastery describes the pleasure we get from doing what we love and following our passion. We are in the zone, or what Pink calls, finding our flow. “Flow” is the term to describe the state of mind when time seems to disappear, and we are just immersed in the task.

Mastery comes from:

  • Flow – having the time, space, and freedom to find and exercise your passion for a profession.
  • Goldilocks Tasks – Not too difficult and not too easy, but just right. We need enough Goldilocks tasks to stretch, engage and indulge our desire for completion and satisfaction.
  • Mindset of learning – people want to learn new skills and extend their capabilities. When we create learning opportunities at work, people are more motivated.

Purpose describes tapping into people’s belief that there should be more to work than just making money and success. Instead, aligning company goals with individual’s aspirations for doing good and meeting a higher guiding principle.

We may not always work for organizations with compelling goals or inspirational objectives. However, we can create a sense of purpose within our teams for delighting customers or surpassing targets. We should not underestimate the motivational effects of developing autonomy, mastery, and purpose with our teams. They form more potent motivators than those based on rewards and recognition alone.

Rewards and Recognition

Even with autonomy, mastery and purpose, there is still a place for rewards and recognition. In fact, they play a hygiene role. We need them but rarely notice them and only really get upset when they are absent.

Waiting for the successful completion of a project before celebrating is too little, too late. We need to show regular appreciation as we go. Appreciations do not need to be large, but they should be thoughtful.

Recognition is often an intangible, experiential event based on behavior rather than an outcome. It is not restricted to a set time and is usually unexpected by the recipient. It is intended to increase people’s feeling of appreciation. Saying a sincere “thank you” for some hard work is a great place to start.

“Ceremonies, celebrations, and rituals are not about the event. They’re about touching the hearts and souls of every employee.”  Victoria Sandvig, Charles Schwab

Rewards can be tangible, consumable items, like a gift certificate or meal voucher. They are typically given as a result of a particular achievement or reaching a specific outcome. In some environments, they might be expected when a goal is met. The purpose is to motivate towards a particular outcome and are always given with recognition too.

Creating a reward and recognition plan for a team should start with the basics of an inclusive, safe, and productive work environment. Then add layers of motivation, recognition, and rewards. It does not need to be like kindergarten, but it does need to be structured to avoid workplace issues and facilitate high performance.

Leading Teams is a People Skill

“You can be the world’s leading expert at PERT/CPM and Earned Value Analysis and still fail at managing projects if you don’t know how to deal with people.” – James Lewis

Project managers need to understand what motivates people to get them enthused about collaborating and actively contributing during the project’s lifetime. It is one thing to be happy to work when everything is new and exciting, but most projects face conflicts, setbacks and obstacles. Leading a team during all its ups and downs requires an entire repertoire of people skills. Hopefully, the leadership tips highlighted in this series provide some additional tools for your project management toolbox.

[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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