Unit 10: Leading Successful Projects

Management and leadership are not the same thing, but they are necessarily linked and complementary.

Perhaps there was a time when the calling of the manager and the leader could be separated – a foreman in an industrial-era factory probably didn’t have to give much thought to what he was producing or to the people producing it.

His job was to follow orders, organize the work, assign the right people to the necessary tasks, coordinate the results, and ensure the job got done as ordered. That sounds like project management, doesn’t it?

These days, though, people look to their managers not just to assign them a task but to define for them a purpose. And managers must organize workers to maximize efficiency and nurture skills, develop talent, and inspire results.

Essentially, the manager’s job is to plan, organize, and coordinate, whereas the leader’s job is to inspire and motivate.

So, if leadership is essentially a strategic activity, in that it takes the long view of developing capacity, how does this reconcile with the fact that projects are often short-term activities?

After all, if a project is a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result, do we really need to do anything more than get the job done?

Well, yes; and here’s why…

Firstly, even though a project is (by definition) temporary, many projects can be years in their delivery – remember the Sydney Opera House?

And even if your project lasts less than a month, you still need to get the most out of your team, which will inevitably require leadership.

Secondly, as we have pointed out in the earlier modules, project teams are ad hoc, meaning they are only convened for the project and disbanded immediately after.

Many project team members often only join for single phases, stages, or even activities.

This means your authority over them is transient, and they are unlikely to respond to orders and threats. Motivating and inspiring them to contribute is, therefore, the best strategy.

Finally, in as much as projects are discrete activities, if you are a manager delivering different projects in the same organization or among the same stakeholders, then the level of trust and respect you inspire will – over time – reflect upon you, your organization, and your projects.

At the most basic level, it will also reflect in your pay!