Following an earlier post, representing my attempt at capturing some of the key personality attributes necessary to be a good PM, I have had an exchange of comments with Dave Gordon from The Practicing IT Project Manager. One thing led to another and we ended up with the question of the relative need for a Project Manager to be a Leader. Put differently, what we were discussing was to what degree does a Project Manager need to posses Leadership qualities. In all honesty I have never spent any significant time on figuring out the demarcation lines between management and leadership but, having to think on my feet I intuitively concluded that the essence of project management is about management and not so much about leadership.

It is at this point that Dave and I agreed to attempt a co-ordinated (yet separate) write-up on this topic, with both of us addressing the following question, and how it is manifested from a management vs leadership perspective. You can read Dave’s perspective in his blog HERE.

Imagine your company has decided to replace its old, premises-based financial system with a cloud-based solution.  Since the company recently acquired two smaller firms, they’d also like to update their chart of accounts and start their new financial year out on the new system.  Your company’s financial year begins on the first of the month, eight months from now.

You have been appointed as the project manager for this journey and as you are about to embark on this endeavour you are asked   to consider the specific management and leadership attributes and behaviors you will need to exhibit in order to navigate the project to a successful completion.

My approach to analyzing this scenario is to examine it through the lenses provided by Sal F. Marion, in the quote below:

A much quoted bromide…defines ‘management‘ as the skill of getting people to do something that you want them to do because you want them to do it and ‘leadership as the art of getting people to do something you want them to do because they want to do it.

Sal F. Marino, “The Difference Between Managing and Leading“, Industry Week, June 17, 1999.

With that in mind, the analysis becomes generic rather than specific. Although from a delivery perspective the project is a challenging one, as it touches of different domains, including technology changes, security considerations, data conversion, change management and extensive stakeholder engagement – all of which are necessary to deliver and achieve the business objectives – but for all intents and purposes are generic across most projects, differing only in their intensity and mix.

So, the question at hand is ultimately about the mix of Leadership vs Management attitudes and behaviors a project manager needs to have in order to be successful in her job.

There is little doubt, and thus requires little elaboration, that project management (as the name seems to so eloquently suggest) is about Management. It is primarily about getting things done and, more importantly, it is about getting other people to get things done.

The role of Leadership in this context requires some elaboration and though there’s a lot to say on this topic, I will attempt to keep it short.

In Leadership Is a Conversation (HBR, June 2012) Boris Groysberg and Michael Slind argue that “The command-and-control approach to management has in recent years become less and less viable” and that “Smart leaders today… engage with employees in a way that resembles an ordinary person-to-person conversation more than it does a series of commands from on high. Furthermore, they initiate practices and foster cultural norms that instill a conversational sensibility throughout their organizations.

I believe traditional view of project management as a command-and-control function is no more. The increased penetration of Agile methods is just one indicator that the ‘market place’ wants a change towards greater collaboration and consultation, or as quoted above, people want ‘conversation’. The degree to which this can be applied can vary and, as argued by Tom Davenport in ‘Does “Management” Mean “Command and Control”?‘ (HBR, July 2008), “the right style of management…varies widely based on a number of factors–including the people being managed, the society in which you’re managing, and the task at hand“.

This very much sums it up for me. The core functionality of a project manager is to manage. The leadership aspects shine through the ability of the PM to engage people in a manner that will adapt to their cultural and psychological needs. The degree of this, however, depends on the above factors and the PM needs to have or develop the skills to determine how these should be incorporated in the style and fashion in which they will be executed.

Think about it!

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  16. “The increased penetration of Agile methods is just one indicator that the ‘market place’ wants a change towards greater collaboration and consultation”

    I think you’ve nailed it, Shim. We’ve been seeing ever more responsibility pushed down as organizations get flatter, and as the workforce gets more multi-cultural and multi-generational. The Millenials, especially, prefer collaboration via “swarming,” “crowd-sourcing,” and social media. As a natural result, now everyone is a leader and everyone is a follower. Of course, we still have to manage, for all the reasons that we still have accountability to authority, but leadership is what we admire, respect, and want to aspire to.


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