The Non-Negotiables of Leadership

By Dave Wakeman, PMP
Project practitioners often get bogged down in the details of getting a project done at all costs. This can cause us to make decisions and take actions that we later regret, because they compromise our position as leaders within our organization. There are three leadership skills that we as project managers need to cultivate in ourselves and that should be non-negotiable, no matter how difficult the project.
1. Integrity: It is easy for a project manager to compromise and make decisions that are in the gray area between right and wrong. To be a strong project leader, it is important that you show character in your decision-making process. Even if compromising your principles makes the current project go more smoothly, in the long run you will lessen your effectiveness as a leader. And remember that your actions as a leader have a huge effect on your team — if you are willing to cut corners or compromise your decision-making, how can you expect any more from your team? Maintain your integrity by setting clear operating principles for your team at the start of the project and always acting within those principles throughout the course of the project, even if it is difficult.
2. Adaptability: As project managers, we have really strong methodologies and standards that drive our planning, implementation and review processes. And sometimes, it’s easy to allow those methodologies to hamper flexibility. To be a great leader, you have to be comfortable knowing the methodology and have faith in your understanding of the methodology and your decision-making process. At the same time, you need to be flexible enough to change with the dynamics of a project. These dynamics can play out as the project unfolds: when resources are limited after allocation; a sponsor or key stakeholder makes new demands; or even having to stop work on a project because it no longer fits into your organization’s strategic goals. In these cases, rely on the solid plan that you developed earlier, but be willing and able to change or scrap that plan when it doesn’t fit the new circumstances.

3. Judgment: Project managers will spend the bulk of their time acting as communicators between sponsors, stakeholders and the team. With all of this communication comes a ton of information, and a project manager must have the confidence and judgment to act on or discard that information. Beyond communication, you’ll make decisions that will affect not only all stakeholders, but also your business and your organization’s overall performance. Two really important points here. First, you have to be patient because big decisions don’t come every day and when they do, you have to be bold enough to take action. Second, you also have to work within your organization to garner the trust necessary to make decisions and, more importantly, to make mistakes along the way. The learning curve isn’t a straight line, and you need the support of your sponsors and supervisors to get the necessary experience in decision-making. Because at the end of the day, that’s what judgment is all about: experience.

The views expressed within the PMI Voices on Project Management blog are contributed from external sources and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of PMI.

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