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by Dr. Daniel Jensen, Corporate Faculty, Harrisburg University of Science & Technology

“If you think you are leading and turn around to see no one following, then you are just taking a walk.” — Benjamin Hooks, former Executive Director of the NAACP

How does a Project Manager know if he or she is effectively leading their team? Benjamin Hooks offered one technique – turn around and look! Is the team following your guidance and vision? Are they motivated to accomplish individual and collective tasks? The purpose of this blog is to define Project Leadership and summarize responsibilities when leading and managing Project Teams in order to avoid “just taking a walk.”

The Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide) defines leadership as “the knowledge, skills and behaviors needed to guide, motivate, and direct a team, to help an organization achieve its business goals” (p. 56). So, the primary responsibility of a Project Manager, when he or she is leading a team, is to guide, direct, and motivate. But what do these words mean within the context of leading teams, and how do we guide, direct and motivate?

Let’s start with the responsibility to guide your team. In order to do this, you, as the leader, need to understand where the team is heading. What is the purpose of your team, as defined in your Project Charter? What are the deliverables? What does success look like at the end of the project and how will it be measured? Specifically answering these questions will allow you to provide a focus for your team and guide them to the end state of the project. But this is not enough. You should then describe the purpose of individual team members. How do members of the team contribute to the project end state and deliverables? Guiding your team by clearly identifying the purpose of the project, along with specific responsibilities, will enable your team to understand why what they are doing matters.

Directing, your second responsibility, involves identifying the right people, to do the right tasks at the right time. Consider the conductor of an orchestra. The conductor has a deep understanding of the musical score being performed. He or she understands the strengths and weaknesses of every musician, leverages their strengths, and compensates for vulnerabilities, to direct a superior performance. Likewise, Project Managers must have a deep understanding of the project and assess team members in terms of specific strengths and weaknesses. He or she must determine who is best suited to perform crucial, time-sensitive tasks, when it’s appropriate to take risks to provide some on the job training, and when it’s time to reward or provide counseling. A prerequisite to effectively directing is understanding what each team member brings to the table to execute and accomplish the project effectively. The project manager must learn as much as possible about team members’ capabilities and limitations.

Finally, as the leader of your project team, you are responsible for motivating your team members. It’s a fallacy to state that people are not motivated. Everyone is motivated to do something. The question is, are they driven to do what you want them to do? Needs drive motive and motive drives behavior; however, we can only observe behavior. So, to the extent possible, our focus as leaders should be on understanding and addressing the needs of Project Team members and then aligning and elevating individual needs with Project Team goals. For example, you may have some very creative people on your team. They have a desire to be creative, so assigning them to a brainstorming session to gather data for a quality management plan provides motivation. The same line of thought applies to those on your team that are more analytical – assigning them to conduct root cause analysis to determine a variance or defect, for example, would allow them to reach their potential. Also, remember my earlier point – people are more motivated when they understand why their work matters. Understanding how day-to-day activities contribute to project goals and objectives is important. This understanding also relates to the final part of the PMBOK leadership definition – the leader’s effort to guide, direct, and motivate should help the organization achieve its business goals. The leader should articulate to team members how project accomplishment and their actions align and support the organization’s operational and strategic focus.

So, where are you in terms of developing the knowledge, skills and behaviors needed to guide, motivate, and direct a team to help an organization achieve its business goals? Are you effectively leading your team or just taking a walk? An assessment of your leadership strengths and weaknesses is an early step towards leadership development. This blog defined Project Leadership and identified your primary responsibilities as the team leader. Follow-on blogs will provide overviews of other competencies required to be an effective leader. Thanks for taking the time to read this Harrisburg University Project Management blog on Project Leadership.


Reference: Project Management Institute (2017). A guide to the project management body of knowledge (PMBOK Guide), 6th Ed. Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute, Inc.

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