PPM 301 - Project Management

Section 5. Project Leadership


This lesson discusses leadership of a project and a project team. Objectives important to this lesson:

  1. Project leadership in general
  2. Perspective on leadership
  3. Coaching team members
  4. Managing conflict
  5. Team leadership
  6. Developing leadership skills
  7. Motivating your team
  8. Decision making

The chapter begins with a comparison of the terms leader and manager. The discussion lists many attributes in section 5.1.2 that are supposed to apply to proven leaders, but they seem to apply to skillful managers just as well. A distinction that may be useful is presented in section 5.1.3, stating that a leader does the right things, and a manager does things right, which is not grammatically correct, but it is dramatic. It might be useful at this point to note that project leader and project manager are not separate roles. It is probably best to say that a manager who shows leadership is a better manager than one who does not.

The text presents some bullet points on pages 174 and 175 about leadership and managership (if that is a real word). At the risk of alienating readers who do not care for Star Trek, you may want to ask yourself what classic role you fit. Are you more like Kirk (leader) or Spock (manager)? Are you more like Picard (leader) or Riker (manager)? Or are you someone who rises to a leadership role when the situation calls for your kind of leadership? We can discuss other examples online and in class. The point that I think matters is that a person should be able to be more than one thing at different points in a career. You should not be stuck with a label that you received based on behaviors and skills that you can change.

The text makes additional points about leadership on the following pages, contrasting what some experienced project managers observed about good and bad leaders on pages 176 and 177. It then adds another concept on page 177, that leadership requires honesty and integrity. These are hard to measure, but they stand out when they are seen. Allow me to offer the conviction of Captain Picard, that the first duty of any officer is to the truth. The text agrees that people will not follow "leaders" who have reputations that do not include honesty and integrity,

On page 178, the text lists three aspects of leadership that are supposedly endorsed by some military authority. (The text could use a few footnotes.) They could be seen in another way:

  • purpose - the general scope, the story of the project; we give staff the idea of what the project goals are and what the project is about
  • direction - tasks, assignments, priorities; this tells project staff what tasks to do and how to do them
  • motivation - importance of the project; this can be met by telling staff why the project and the tasks are being done, why they are important, and what each of them is contributing to the larger goals

The points discussed on pages 178 and 179 add attributes of leaders that staff should expect to see. They include coaching from the leader, which is discussed in more detail in the pages that follow. Note the list of characteristics at the top of page 179, which summarizes this section.

The sidebar on page 180 adds the four concepts above, stating that leadership is composed of purpose, direction, motivation, and coaching. The text seems to say that a leader has the first three elements, and delivers all four to others.

After a few more pages of qualities one hopes to find in leaders, the text turns to more detail on coaching on page 184. The text seems to say that coaching is behavior modification: we want to reinforce good behaviors while we extinguish bad behaviors. The text tells us that we must set expectations about the desired behaviors we want to see in our team members, then praise good or improved behaviors, and take action to correct unapproved behaviors. This corrective action may be counseling, training, constructive criticism, or other actions. The examples of criticism on page 187 remind me of training sessions I have attended about disciplining staff.

  • You must clearly state what you want, what you find unacceptable in the current situation, and what you want the team member to do to correct the situation.
  • Specific actions must be required, in a clear time line, and there must be measurements that will be applied to determine that improvement has or has not taken place.
  • There must be consequences if improvement does not take place, and there may be rewards if improvement does take place.

On page 188, the text lists four objectives that a project leader (or any manager) should pursue when seeking to develop staff:

  • Lead the team member to recognize his/her own strengths and shortcomings. Recognition of the situation that presently exists is important when seeking change.
  • Have the team member participate in choosing courses of action to resolve problems and shortcomings. The leader must provide guidance to an acceptable/useful/correct choice.
  • Require the team member to begin and continue (corrective) action to resolve problems or develop new skills.
  • Require that the team member take responsibility for personal development.

On the bottom of page 188, the text begins a list of key characteristics of effective coaching.

  • flexibility - coaching a person is not like writing a book: it should be customized to the needs of the employee
  • respect - respect for employees is essential if we expect their cooperation, as noted above
  • communication - communication must flow in both directions in order to create an individual dialog
  • support - we are asking the employee to take action that will lead to desired changes, so we must support the employee and those actions
  • motivation - employees who seek coaching are already motivated to receive it; employees who do not seek it may need it more, and will benefit from being given some motivation to participate in the conversation, planning, actions, or training that will be involved
  • purpose - the text tells us that a goal of this process is to develop self-reliance in our staff; a person who has done this a time or two may be able to continue to do it on their own when needed

On page 190, the text begins a discussion about managing conflict in projects. This section does not offer the detail that the previous section does. After the discussion about coaching, the reader might assume that the text is about to tell us how to manage personal conflicts. In fact, only part of the discussion is about that. Let's consider some of the points:

  • project priorities - There are likely to be differences between the priorities put on work units by project staff and those assigned by functional managers and staff. This problem should lead those involved to revisit assignment of priorities.
  • methodology - The text tells us that methods used in projects may be changed as the project goes on, and this can be a source of conflict between those who are "by the book" people and those who are more pragmatic. A consensus should be sought, but the text warns us about consensus in a few paragraphs.
  • sexual harassment - This is a problem that concerns two or more people, not attitudes about a project. As the text explains, it is defined as a hostile work environment created by unwanted sexual advances. The text does not offer any advice about dealing with such a situation.
  • inappropriate jokes - Humor that denigrates individuals or ethnic groups, humor that is sexual in nature, suggestive, or unwelcome, Again, the text offers no advice about what to do about such a problem. The usual approach for this bullet and the last is to have work rules that forbid such acts, and discipline to use against those who violate such rules.

The text has an interesting aside on page 193 that tells us that consensus may not mean what those who attain it think it means. Consensus is defined as agreement, but the text points out that it may actually mean something else:

  • it doesn't affect me - If people do not speak out or vote against some issue in a meeting, it may be that those people believe the issue does not affect them, so there is no return to speaking against it.
  • no one in the room is harmed - It may be that no one in a meeting speaks against a rule or policy because the wrong people are in the room. If we have a discussion about a new rule and do not include people who are affected by that rule in the discussion, we have only delayed running into the negative effects of that policy.

On page 194, we see a list of methods that might be used as techniques to avoid or resolve conflict. The author has a problem with all but the last one:

  • withdrawal - Walking away from the conflict, choosing to ignore it, and remaining silent when asked about any problems leads to the illusion that there is no conflict. This does not resolve the conflict or move us toward a solution.
  • smoothing - Stressing points of agreement, and glossing over differences can lead to parties choosing to believe that conflict is small, unimportant, or nonexistent. This can also be an illusion.
  • compromise - Compromise can mean that each side in a conflict gives up something to get something. It can be useful, but it can also lead to a situation that no one wants if everyone feels they have lost something without cause.
  • forcing - This seems to be saying that someone in authority is forcing a solution on the parties involved in the conflict due to the need to move ahead, the need to complete tasks, or the inability of the conflicted parties to reach an agreement.
  • problem solving - The problem is actually analyzed based on the facts, actions are considered and examined, and a choice is made about what to do. This is the text's recommended course.

After struggling with the term for many pages, the text tells us on page 195 that there are over a hundred definitions of leadership, and thousands of studies and articles on it. On page 196, the text offers a list characteristics of leaders. Unfortunately, the list leaves me a bit cold. The list could just as easily be a list of features of politicians. Some of the characteristics fit rock stars, some fit movie stars. What makes a person a leader? Since the text is not helpful, let's have a discussion about it this week.

The text may be more helpful on the next couple of pages, explaining that leaders provide a vision, and managers provide a means to attain it. Leaders tend to operate at the strategic level, while managers tend to operate at the tactical or operational level. The problem with all this discussion is that you should agree with the text when it finally notices that a project manager may need to be a lead and a manager, at the same time or at different times. They are not necessarily different roles in a project or in a company.

Let's move ahead to page 200. The text begins a discussing of professional development for a project manager. We are given a list of five skill areas, each of which comes with a set of diagnostic questions. The questions are meant to determine whether a project manager is performing well in this area, and to point in the direction of improvement if there are problems.

  • planning
    • does the manager develop coherent plans?
    • do the manager's plans have enough detail to be implemented?
    • do the manager's plans clearly state the purpose of the project?
    • are the plans too simple or too complex?
    • do the plans have buy-in from the proper stakeholders?
    • are the plans approved by all necessary approvers?
  • organizing
    • is the organization of project teams done well?
    • are human resources used well by the manager? are skills matched well to work units?
    • does the organization of the team lead to effective implementation and closure of the project?
    • are needed skills requested as needed from resources that can provide them?
  • motivating
    • are staff motivated to perform their work well?
    • does the manager use incentives when available?
    • can the manager defuse tension with humor or with other methods?
    • does the manager show concern for the welfare of the team?
    • does the manager correct staff professionally instead of harshly?
    • does the manager give praise when it is due?
  • directing
    • does the manager assign work to all people available on the team?
    • does the size of the team and the skill set found in the members match the work of the team?
    • does the manager give instructions to the team that include enough detail?
    • does the manager state deadlines for work clearly?
    • are the manager's instructions well founded or do they need to be changed often?
  • controlling
    • does the manager check the quality of the work of the team?
    • does the manager assign staff to correct errors and to improve output?
    • does the manager require that work-arounds be approved?
    • does the manager review cost and schedule items?
    • does the manager review the technical aspects of the project?
    • does the manager maintain the flow of the project to its completion?

On page 203, we are told about four management areas that a project manager should know something about:

  • scheduling management - The project phases must take place, and as close to the schedule as possible.
  • budget development management - The project must be paid for at each stage.
  • technical performance management - Someone must watch out for technical problems and failures.
  • risk management - Things will go wrong. We must prepare for them.

The diagnostic questions for these four areas are similar to those for the skill areas above. The project manager is expected to show competence in each kind of management.

On the next three pages, the text revisits the project manager's attitude. We are reminded to have and show enthusiasm for the project, a positive attitude about the results we are going to deliver, and a focus on the job that will move staff forward to complete each work unit.

Page 207 presents a list of twelve principles for a project manager that apply to many of the previous pages. There is no new information here, only a review.

The text moves on to a section about motivation, although it is not clear what the point of this section is. On page 208, we are introduced to Abraham Maslow, a psychologist who introduced Maslow's Hierarchy, a theory that people do not attain certain levels of development unless they first attain levels that support those higher levels.

Maslow's Hierarchy (from Wikipedia)

For example, as depicted in the image above, a person has to meet basic physiological needs before meeting the needs of safety, which then enable the person to seek the level of love and belonging. The text groups the first two levels of the hierarchy as primary needs, and the other levels above them as secondary needs. One of Maslow's points was that you have to build each new layer of the pyramid after successfully building the previous layers. This is an interesting theory and it may help many of us to realize that we have to build ourselves up to the level of being a creative, moral, accepting, self-actualized person. It is unclear how the text thinks we are supposed to use this when we try to motivate staff to perform better in a project.

We turn the page and find a reference to Douglas McGregor, who wrote about Theory X and Theory Y. Theory X says that people avoid work and will not do much unless there is a threat of punishment for not doing it. Theory Y says that people will show that they are good and will do good work if they are rewarded for doing so. What the text seems to say about McGregor's theories is best seen in the bullets at the bottom of page 210, which appear to be part of the discussion of Theory Y. They are not: they apply to the composite of the two theories. Let's examine them:

  • People respond as they are treated - maybe people are not inherently good or bad, but they will respond to people who believe that they are one or the other in the way that seems to be expected of them
  • Managers are responsible for the conduct of their people - people who are treated with respect may be expected to act as though they have respect for others; people who are treated without respect will be less likely to show it to others

In the Wikipedia article on McGregor, we learn that he was disappointed that people assumed that he was proposing that Theory Y is right and Theory X is wrong. He may have meant for us to realize that our expectations affect how people act toward us, not that there is a universal way people act.

The chapter ends with some material on making decisions, which resembles the process that is used in developing a project. There is little new here.