Leading the way to project success

ESI’s annual top 10 trends for 2014, as identified by our senior executives and subject matter experts, has highlighted the growing unease with current project management practices as a result of disappointing results.

Despite organisations investing hundreds of millions of dollars in project management tools, credentials and training, reports by the Project Management Institute (PMI), Gartner and Forrester continue to reveal poor project results as a consequence of project management performance.

A global survey by the PMI has found that the rate of project failure from 2012 to 2013 has increased by 10 per cent. It’s no surprise then that organisations of all industries are getting tired of this, and are looking at different approaches to ensure their projects have better outcomes.

Positive action ranges from adopting lean methodologies to making sure each project has a sponsor with a backbone – and perhaps most significantly – the rolling out of better leadership programmes for project and programme managers.

This greater emphasis on leadership within projects has even led to a small but growing number of organisations calling their project professionals leaders rather than managers.

While this is unlikely to result in a replacement of the project manager title, it is a significant indicator that the ability to lead a team is now seen as more crucial to its success than managing it.

Practical approach

The difference between managing and leading comes down to how employees’ or team members’ work is structured and watched. Managing tends to be a more rigid, hierarchical process with emphasis on the professional development side of the business, rather than the practical side of getting the work done.

A key component of leading meanwhile is working as part of a team while retaining the decision-making authority, clear to all team members.

In the context of project management, project managers are unique in the way that their teams are compiled. Rather than being recruited and chosen based on how they will fit and compliment the rest of the team, a project team is put together based on the resources available.

A PM often has to juggle a lot of conflicting personalities and different backgrounds and therefore needs to be able to communicate with and motivate its team on the project vision and goals.

Being a good leader ensures they are better able to pull a team together and align its members in a common objective, in order to get the best performance out of them.

Project teams with more emphasis on leading, will therefore have better outcomes than those who rely on managing.

Facilitating change

Fortunately, this force for positive change can be driven directly by project managers themselves – the ones who are aren’t prepared to simply sit back and watch things continue as they are – but instead want to actively help their organisation be better at project management.

Take up of ESI’s Leadership and Coaching courses in the UK have been rising steadily over the last four years, indicating that project management professionals have started to realise the importance of leadership skills and experience, in addition to their technical and business skills, to their organisation, as well as their career.

By making things happen and facilitating this change for the better, organisations will reward these project managers by retaining them.

The fact is that despite poor results in project success, project management remains a growing industry – but one that is becoming increasingly difficult to recruit the right project managers for.

A lack of qualified applicants means there are thousands of project management positions left unfilled across the globe.

Organisations searching and struggling for key project management professionals will not want their good project managers to leave.

Therefore for those in possession of the right qualifications and skills, a proven track record and a willingness to re-locate, there has never been a better time to be a project manager – as long as they keep their skills – especially in leadership – as sharp as they can.