CareerProject LeadershipProject Management

From Manager to Leader: A Review of Susanne Madsen’s The Power of Project Leadership

The canon of project management texts gets denser by the day. The subset of texts pertaining to project leadership however is relatively small.  In her new book, The Power of Project Leadership, Susanne Madsen expounds on how any project manager, at any level of hierarchy, in any organization, can become a project leader. And your career will reap the benefits.

Manager vs. Leader

The big first question most people might have is, “What’s the difference between a project manager and a project leader?” As Madsen explains it, project managers are concerned with maintaining standards, producing quality goods and services, and delivering on a consistent basis. These are of course all good qualities. Project leaders can then be seen as a natural evolution of project managers, or project managers ‘taken to the next level.’ Leaders set goals, constantly seek improvements that upset the status quo, and use their vision as a tool to inspire their teams to ever higher levels of success. Another major difference is that while managers use their authority status to get work done, leaders are able to use their influence and people-oriented skills to rally teams toward a goal.

The Keys to Your Leadership Awakening

Madsen spends the large brunt of her book writing about seven “keys” of professional development that can unlock the leader within you. If your concern is that the book devolves into a list of brain-dead common sense suggestions, allow me to dash those concerns right away. Madsen provides a bevy of fresh insights above and beyond generic assertions like, “Communication is important,” and she backs those insights up by citing statistics, research, and even several psychological studies. She additionally enlists the aid of several others in the industry, such as the “Lazy Project Manager” Peter Taylor, to provide personal anecdotes that reinforce her points.

The greatest achievement of this book though, and also what distinguishes it from just another project management book, is how it so deftly handles the human element of management. Madsen keeps the emphasis on how your relationships with your team, stakeholders, and executives are the most critical factor to project success. To that end, she discusses several different psychological concepts that apply directly into the context of management, such as the Parent-Adult-Child model of communication. A recurring theme is that you must be mindful of what motivates other people, what scares other people, what limits other people, and how you can use the answers to these questions to help them grow. Madsen says that while your primary goal as a project leader is to produce value for the business, your secondary goal is to support and develop your team. A leader can and must achieve both in tandem.

An Invigorating Read

But I want to reiterate that in less than 300 pages, The Power of Project Leadership is a very comprehensive guide to project leadership, and in fact the only place where it skimps on detail—by Madsen’s own admission—is with regard to process, a topic on which countless other good books already exist. Otherwise, Madsen takes great pains to provide dozens of in-depth examples of her ideas in action, and she even includes exercises, checklists, and suggestions on how to embed new behaviors that force you to critically assess your strengths and shortcomings as a manager and a leader.

And perhaps most refreshingly of all, Madsen writes it all with an infectious enthusiasm, encouraging you every step of the way. There is nothing insincere or saccharine about her zest (Indeed, “Be authentic” is her first key!). She legitimately has every confidence that you have what it takes to move from a preserver of the status quo and into a position of innovator, of project champion, of business aligner, of project leader.

Basically, if you read this book, and you don’t improve as a project manager, it’s your fault.

You can order your copy of Susanne Madsen’s The Power of Project Leadership at the link provided:

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