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How to Be an Effective Project Leader

Leadership and management are two related but distinct sets of behaviors for guiding and supporting people through a project. Project managers must be able to lead and manage to keep team members on track.

Here are the differences:

  • Leadership emphasizes defining a vision and encouraging other people to help make that vision a reality; management focuses on creating plans and assessing performance.

  • Leadership focuses on people; management focuses on systems, procedures, and information.

  • Leadership facilitates change; management creates order and predictability.

As you plan your project, explore the why of the project (a leadership issue) to help elicit people’s buy in and commitment. Also explore the what, when, and how (management issues) to develop a feasible approach for successfully achieving the project’s goals. As you organize your project, clarify who will support the different project activities (a management task) and help them get excited about doing so (a leadership task).

Throughout the project, continually let people know how the project is progressing, and deal with any problems you encounter along the way (management tasks). Remind people of the project’s benefits, and acknowledge their contributions to the project’s success (leadership tasks).

Because personal power is the ability to influence and guide the actions of others, the first step in developing this power is understanding why people choose to do what you ask in the first place.

People respond to your requests and directions for many reasons, including the following:

  • Rewards: People do what you ask because they want the benefits you can give them. Examples of rewards include raises and recognition.

  • Punishments: People do what you ask because they don’t want what you can give them. Examples of punishments include poor performance appraisals and undesirable job assignments.

  • Your position: People take your requests more seriously because they feel the project manager should direct team members. You can lose this power if you behave inappropriately, but you have it initially.

  • What you stand for: People do what you ask because they agree with your goals. They know that your requests and actions are attempts to achieve the same results they want to achieve.

  • Who you are: People listen to you because they appreciate and respect who you are, as reflected by your sensitivity, your loyalty to others, your sense of humor, or other positive characteristics of your attitudes and behaviors.

  • Your expertise: People listen to you because they respect the skills and knowledge that you bring to your job. They listen to you because they believe you’re probably right.

You don’t have to be the technical expert on your project to command the respect of your team members and effectively lead your project. But you do have to be an expert in the skills and knowledge that your job demands on the project. Because you’re the project manager, these skills and knowledge include your abilities to plan and control the project, encourage effective communication, encourage a positive and productive work environment, and understand the political environment in your overall organization.

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