A while back, on day 2 of a project with an important client, I met the division’s president. After a bit of small talk, he got down to business. He said, “I hate Project Managers.”
It turns out that his experience with PMs was limited to two types:
First, high priced consultants who talked a good game but didn’t actually complete anything. Second, department personnel who were given a “growth opportunity” and expected to successfully manage a project with no training.
Obviously, as an experienced and credentialed Project Manager, I was able to turn around his opinion.
But he’s not the only one who has an aversion to the profession. I meet many PMO Directors and recruiters hungry for PMs who do more than check boxes and bark orders. They are looking for true project leaders.
So what’s the difference between managing and leading? Basically:
Someone who manages a project will focus on the “what.” That is, what needs to be done: what metrics, what dates, what requirements, what resources, etc. And all of this is perfectly legitimate. We need the “what”!
A leader focuses on the “how.” How are we going to get from milestone to milestone? How will the team react to a change? How does this requirement impact the others? How should we handle this new information?
So why aren’t more managers leading?
There are a million different reasons. Sometimes it’s easier to keep your head down and tell people what to do. If there’s no relationship, there’s no vulnerability. Sometimes a PM is untrained. They know they’re not doing a great job but don’t know what to do about it. And sometimes a manager truly believes their team members should just do what they’re told and executives should just accept whatever you tell them and stay out of the project!
How do you tell that you’re managing instead of just leading?
You pay attention and you ask.
Think about your last team meeting. Did you ask for suggestions, opinions, or if there was anything else the team needed to discuss? What about your last executive meeting—was it just a status update, or did you give them the forum to have meaningful discussions that could help remove barriers for your project?
If the answer is no, or “not really,” then you have the opportunity to ask them. Starting today. Next meeting, end each topic with “Is there anything else we need to know?” or “Is there anything we should be concerned about?”
The risk of management without leadership comes down to the fact that no matter what project we’re on, we are dealing with:
- People. Human beings react to the way they’re being treated. For example, no one likes to be left completely out of the planning process and simply told what to do and when, especially when it pertains to their area of expertise. And each person reacts differently.
- Organizations. There is more going on in the company than just your project. New products are being developed, documentation updated, and budgets reviewed. Every decision in one area ripples to others. Maybe you can’t use Joe in the lab because Cynthia retired and he’s got to fill in while they hire someone new.
Make sure you’re considering the impact of each detail you hear during the meeting. If someone’s child is heading off to college, that may affect a milestone date, either because they need to take time off to help them move in or because they’re going to be busy and distracted for a while.
Management with leadership: it helps your outcomes and turns your team—and executives—into PM fans.