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The VIP of Project Leadership

As project managers, many of us work on projects that are both business critical and complex, and which have a global and cross-cultural element to them. To successfully implement such projects, we cannot rely on project management certification alone which predominantly makes us good at planning and tracking the task-related aspects of a project. In addition, we must be able to build effective relationships, clearly articulate the project’s vision and build a highly motivated team. To become a successful project leader, apply the principles of the VIP model.

Lead with
Vision: The greater clarity you have with regards to the future you wish to create, the easier it will be for you to serve your customer, deliver the desired end-state and provide focus and direction to the team. When you understand and take ownership of the strategy for achieving a successful project outcome, you are able to inspire and motivate the team and make the day-to-day decisions necessary to reach that future. To lead with vision, you should:

  • Fully embrace the goals, objectives and plans of the project
  • Visualize what the end state of your project looks like
  • Challenge the status quo by finding more effective ways of achieving the vision
  • See it the way the end users and beneficiaries see it
  • Feel it, taste it, and smell it
  • Take ownership, not just for delivering project outputs and capabilities, but for the ultimate business benefits
  • Draw your team into the vision by illustrating how each person fits in and matters to the project’s overall execution

When you lead with vision you become more than a manager of people and resources. You become an inspiration to the team and a change agent who monitors and delivers the ultimate business benefits and value-added services to the client. Work with Intent: Working as a project manager can be stressful and the demand for your time will always be greater than what you have available. Successful project leaders know how to get the most out of the day as they constantly assess where their time is best spent. When you work with intent you focus on those activities that yield the biggest result for your project and for your customer. You avoid the trap of being reactive and firefighting, and you become good at delegating tasks which someone else could do just as well as, or better than, yourself. To work smarter rather than harder, you should:

  • Focus your time on pro-active activities such as planning, risk mitigation, quality assurance, relationship building and stakeholder management
  • Avoid fire-fighting and time-wasting activities
  • Concentrate on the 20% of daily activities that contribute to 80% of your results
  • Delegate administrative tasks, low level planning, project reporting and documentation – for instance to your PMO
  • Train and grow other people so that you have someone to delegate to
  • Consistently ask yourself what the most important use of your time is right now
  • Focus on people as much as you focus on tasks

When you work with intent and focus you lay the foundation for being a high performer. You spend your time where it is most needed and you are more likely to avoid a crisis situation and having to firefight in the present moment. Focus on People: Too many project managers hide behind their desk and mainly communicate through emails and status reports. To become a project leader you must connect with people and build strong relationships. This is true for your team members as well as your stakeholders. Your team members need to feel personally motivated and connected to the project’s vision in order to perform at their best. Likewise, the project stakeholders are a source of great support and can contribute tremendously towards a successful project outcome if managed correctly. To build strong relationships with people, you should:

  • Seek to understand what drives and motivates each of your team-members
  • Spend time with them on a one-2-one basis and really listen
  • Utilize people’s strengths and give them work which is interesting and purposeful
  • Identify the project’s most powerful and influential stakeholders
  • Engage them on a regular basis through short face-2- face sessions
  • Ask about their concerns, suggestions and understand their success criteria
  • Draw them into the project in a way which suits their interests, skills and preferences
  • Expand your comfort zone by interfacing directly with the sponsor

When you connect with people and find out what motivates each person do their job even better, you can align the individual’s aims and purposes with that of the project and create a truly motivated and highly effective team. Likewise, when you consider your stakeholders’ priorities, concerns, and success criteria, they will start to trust you and become allies who actively work to support you and your project.

About Susanne Madsen

Author, public speaker, project manager, mentor, and coach with over 15 years of experience in managing and rolling out major change programs.

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