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The Project Leadership Matrix™

Do you have the right project management leadership profile? Project Leadership is the art and science of leading a successful project, or change initiative, and ensuring that it results in positive benefits for the customer. It is an important concept because it enables us to work as effectively as possible and add as much value as we can to our organization, teams and customers. And in the process, of course, we generate great career opportunities and recognition through the work we do. Project leadership is as much about vision, engagement and people as it is about managing tasks, plans and resources. It is characterized by a person’s ability to build relationships with customers and end users, understanding their real needs and leading the team to successfully deliver those needs. I tend to refer to Project Leadership as the epitome of good project management – or as an extension of traditional project management. Let me explain by describing The Project Leadership Matrix™ below.

The matrix holds the key to how project managers can become more successful and influential project leaders. On the horizontal axis of the matrix we measure how people-focused someone is (towards the right hand side) versus how task-focused they are (towards the left hand side). If you are predominately people-focused you will tend to lead through people, encourage people to grow and develop, and find ways to inspire them to follow. We can call this a “pull” approach. If, on the other hand, you are predominately task-oriented, you tend to manage your projects through tasks, events and processes.

Your focal point will be on rational thinking and on telling people what to do. We can call this a “push” approach. On the vertical axis we measure how proactive someone is (towards the top of the axis) versus how reactive they are (towards the bottom of the axis). If you mainly operate in a proactive way, it means that you consistently take the initiative to work towards delivering the project’s strategic vision. You think ahead and you take action to ensure that roadblocks and risks are avoided and that the ultimate business benefits are realized. If, on the other hand, you are mainly reactive, it means that you are on your back foot as you are reacting to events that happen. Rather than being the instigator (or leader), you are the follower. The axes of the matrix create four quadrants, which represent four fundamental ways in which you can operate and focus as a project manager. The quest is to; 1) Understand which quadrant you tend to spend most of your time in 2) Start moving away from the quadrant in which unsuccessful project managers operate 3) Start exhibiting the characteristics of a successful project leader Let’s have a look at each of the four quadrants.
Quadrant I – Reactive people management: You fall into this category, if you predominantly pay attention to people rather than tasks and if, at the same time, you have a reactive rather than proactive mentality. Operating in this quadrant means that you spend a lot of time dealing with interpersonal conflict and people management issues.
Quadrant II – Reactive task management: You mainly operate in quadrant number II if you spend most of your time fire fighting and dealing with defects, broken processes and urgent issues. It happens because you have a reactive mindset and your focus is tasks rather than people.

Quadrant III – Proactive task management: If you tend to operate in quadrant number III, it means that you spend most of your time on traditional project management activities such as planning, risks management and quality assurance. You are in control because you are proactively looking ahead and planning for the future, yet your focal point is tasks.

Quadrant IV – Proactive people management: If you fit into quadrant number IV, you spend most of your time building strategic relationships, leading and motivating the team and setting out the strategic direction for the team. You are proactive and you are focused on people rather than tasks. From observation, many project managers operate in quadrant number II – not all of the time, but very often. Their day or week is consumed with urgent issue resolution and fire fighting. They struggle to find space in the diary to be more proactive, to plan, to think strategically and to build strong relationships with the team and the project’s key stakeholders. In the matrix below this place is indicated with a grey circle and a cross.

MadGraph

If you recognize that you spend most of your time in quadrant number II, your most important goal should be to limit fire fighting and to start being more proactive. Take action to become a project leader and move towards the top of the matrix, as indicated with the orange oval shape. A project leader is both task-oriented and people-oriented, and keeps a strategic and proactive outlook at all times. When you operate within the orange oval space of project leadership, it means that you are more effective, you spend your time well, have a strategic mindset and add more value to your clients. Avoid spending time in the bottom part of the matrix if you can. Putting out fires on a project should be the exception rather than the rule. The question now is how you can start to move away from the lower part of the matrix and move towards the top. This can be challenging as many people are too busy to take a step back, to stop, and analyze how they can work smarter. But to be successful, we have to optimize our ways. We have to break the vicious circle and free up time to be more proactive. Let me leave you with the following questions. They hold the key to how you can instantly start to add more value to be recognized for your results.

  • How can you start to delegate some of your administrative tasks and free yourself up to work on the activities that really matter to the success of your project?
  • Who can you start to train to gradually take over some of your lower level roles and responsibilities?
  • What are the 20% of activities you do during a week which add to 80% of your results? How can you amplify these 20% and eliminate the rest?
  • How can you instantly start to add more value to your client?
  • How can you spend more quality time with your team and the senior stakeholders?
  • What can you do to understand your project’s vision and objectives better and to a higher degree inspire your team to achieve that vision?

Further reading: 16 Essential Questions to Project Leadership Success 20 Essential Tips for Project Leaders Delegate Effectively and Thoughtfully Become a Proactive Project Manager Seven Essential Time Management Strategies 6 Principles for building trusting and lasting relationships with your stakeholders

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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