Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Yin and Yang of Project Management and Leadership

Successful project managers not only have to be good managers, but also strong leaders.

Now the dilemma here, is that the skills and attributes of strong leaders are quite different from those of good managers.

It is very important to recognize these differences and maintain an appropriate  balance between the "yin" of good project management and the "yang" of strong leadership.

Let's examine some of these differences and the challenges that a project manager will face in trying to be both a good project manager and effective leader, at the same time.

Create the Plan/Share the Vision
A project manager needs to create a plan for their project and manage to that plan.  To also exercise project leadership, the project manager needs to share a broad and bold business oriented vision for the project.  For example, your project may be to provide an e-commerce capability for your organization, and as a manager, you need to develop and implement a plan for the project.  As a leader, you must  share the project vision at every opportunity, emphasizing (for example) how the project is an important component of your organization's strategy to transform its business model, increase revenue and enable further business opportunities.  

Control Change/Embrace Change
As a Project Manager it is important to control and manage change.  However, as a leader, you recognize that change is not only inevitable, but also desirable, as it generally reflects a more appropriate or more current need from your client.  So as well as controlling change with your "project manager hat", with your "leader" hat, you need to welcome and embrace change.

Be Rational/Be Passionate
Project Managers tend to be analytical and rational, which are excellent attributes for managing projects.  However, as a leader, you need to inspire and encourage your team, be very excited and passionate about your project and its business goals and constantly share your enthusiasm for the project with your project team.  Steve Jobs was famous for his "reality distortion field" whereby he refused to accept that something was not feasible, and in the process significantly raised the bar on what Apple was able to achieve.

Avoid Risks/Take Risks
As Project Managers, it is (or should be) in your DNA to anticipate and avoid or mitigate risks that could adversely affect your project.  However, as a leader you will also have to accept that great goals are  usually also accompanied by great risks, and will need to work with your team to conquer those risks with the same level of teamwork, skill and preparation that you would use, say, to climb a very high mountain.

Focus on Processes/Focus on Goals
As Project Managers, we are also trained to apply good processes and best practices in the planning and execution of our projects.  With a focus on processes, we can get mired in technical issues and debates and sometimes lose sight of the original project goals.  We need to quickly put back on our leader hat, and re-focus on the project's business goals.  This can lead us to explore alternate solutions that can often be a better path to those business goals.   

Skills and Knowledge/Values and Attitudes
In an interesting post on 10 Leadership Lessons from the IBM Executive School on a few months ago, the author described how when IBM were establishing an Executive School in the mid 50's, they hired a company to research and determine the skills common to executives so that they could in turn groom and train their managers for executive management.

It was discovered that unlike lower level managers, the executives they examined did not seem to share any common skills and knowledge.  What they shared were certain values and attitudes.

Whilst the project management skills and knowledge you need are fairly common (hello PMI PMBOK® Guide), the leadership values and attitudes you hold can vary quite widely, so look around and see what works for other leaders and embrace and develop those that you feel will be most effective for you.

What are some of the values and attitudes that you feel have helped you in leading your projects?


  1. A few months ago, I personally attended some leadership courses at and I've learned that positivity, purpose, empathy, compassion and humility are the most important attitudes that a great leader must have. These courses were very useful and they really helped me improve my leadership skills.

  2. Thanks for the information. As most of the people i gone through are in confusion to choose project management course for their career, This will helps a lot to get out from their confusion.

  3. Just like karma. Great post there


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