Project Management Basics II: Leading a Successful Project Team

In last month’s article, we discussed some of the key components of project management. Perhaps nobody in your organization has the official title of “project manager,” but it is nonetheless an important part of running a business. From time to time, we need to divert resources from daily operations to address short-term issues, develop new initiatives, and tackle special projects. Doing so effectively can be a big challenge for any manager. A good project needs clearly defined objectives and careful monitoring throughout, if it is to be completed on time and under budget. For employees involved in the project, it often requires additional work or temporary reassignment. This can be a positive growth experience and interesting new challenge if it is run properly, but it can also lead to job dissatisfaction if the project fails or is mismanaged.
In the excellent book Project Management for the Unofficial Project Manager, experts on the subject outline four key leadership skills needed to guide an effective project team. The authors continually reinforce that the project manager needs to “manage the project but lead the people.” In this article we outline four foundational behaviors needed to accomplish this: demonstrate respect, listen first, clarify expectations, and practice accountability.

Giving and Receiving Respect
Imagine you have assembled a team to develop a strategy for expanding sales into a new region. As a leader in the organization, it may be apparent to you why this expansion is necessary for the growth and health of the business, but it might not be obvious to your employees. Members of a project team want to know they are there for a good reason, especially if they are being taken away from other responsibilities. Keep them informed as the project develops, and be honest about challenges and obstacles. Being kind but straightforward with your team is a sign of respect, and in turn it encourages them to be honest about how their parts of the project are progressing.

Lead by Listening
Sometimes project managers assume they have to be the expert in every aspect of the project. While you are likely very knowledgeable, the reality is you have picked members of the team because of the expertise they bring to the table. An expansion team, for example, would likely contain people from marketing, sales, and operations, all of whom possess knowledge relevant to different aspects of taking on clients in a new region. When the group inevitably encounters challenges, it is vital you encourage them to draw on their own knowledge and expertise for answers. Show that you take their concerns seriously and value their input. By listening to what they have to say before giving direction, you will not only create trust among you team members, but you will give employees a chance to talk through challenges and develop solutions grounded in their own skills and experience.

Set Clear Expectations
We have all had the unfortunate experience of getting a work assignment without receiving clear directions. Employees can easily feel this way on projects, when they are completing new tasks and feeling a little out of their element. For example, perhaps some of the members of your expansion team have been tasked with developing marketing materials for the new region, but they have not been given specifications on who their marketing should target or what the primary message should be. When employees do not know or understand what is expected of them, they become easily frustrated and let their work quality slip. As the project manager, it is your job to continually clarify expectations not only on an individual level, but also to remind people of the project’s big picture. When employees see the importance of the work and understand how they can contribute, they will be motivated to succeed.

Practice Accountability
The previous three behaviors—showing respect, listening, and setting clear expectations—lay the groundwork for this fourth and final behavior, arguably the most important part of leading a project team. When you have good rapport with the team, you are better able to hold them accountable for their assignments. Employees who feel respected and listened to, who understand what is expected of them, will be more forthcoming about the status of their assignments. They will be honest with you when they struggle to meet their goals and will ask for help when they need it.
Of course, accountability is a two-way street. You cannot effectively lead a team without holding yourself to the same standards. The leader on any project has to model all of the behaviors he expects of his team. By providing that example and being an honest, reliable member of the team, you will not only help your team accomplish its goals, but they will also grow professionally and personally from the experience.
Whatever projects your company needs to tackle, we at NiteHawk Sweepers wish you all the best.

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