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Leadership for Programme and Project Managers

~ By Melanie Franklin, CEO, Maven Training

Good leader clipboard with checkboxes marked for leadership competencies

Effective management is not just about being able to apply budgetary constraints or running projects to time. In fact, 70% of businesses fail to achieve their desired goals and the causes for failure are usually lack of strong leadership, lack of team skills, and lack of stakeholder engagement. These more subtle skills can have a huge effect on successful outcomes.

I recently held two discussion groups with delegates at The Best Practice Showcase in London. I asked them to share their thoughts on what makes a good leader. They offered a wide range of responses including "Setting a good example", "Conviction" and "Commitment."

While there's plenty of advice available on leadership in an organisational context, programme and project managers face a unique set of issues. Within a project environment, leadership means influencing, persuading and controlling resources that have multiple reporting lines and varying levels of commitment to the projects.

Because projects operate in a short-term management structure which introduces change, the leaders of those projects face a unique set of circumstances because they introduce the unknown quantity. This can create fear and reluctance to change among both their team members and the wider organisation.

Additionally, project managers often have limited control over resources and don't have formal line management reporting roles. They need to motivate staff working in their teams in a creative way because they probably won't be able to offer formal rewards such as a wage rise or promotions. They have to think of alternative ways to motivate their staff.

It's also vital that project managers are competent to lead others by managing themselves effectively. This means they need to keep their emotions under control. Some people think this kind of control is at odds with being genuine and authentic, which are important leadership qualities. I believe that self management doesn't have to be a straight jacket. For example, if you're feeling frustrated by the actions of a team member, you can choose whether to blow up in their face, or walk away, take some deep breaths and come back to them later when you feel calmer.

I think there are four technical competencies needed to manage projects. These are:

  • Delivering on objectives set
  • Taking a long range perspective and understanding what the organisation will be like as a result of the successful delivery of the project
  • Bringing together the right people
  • Innovating and developing new approaches

When starting up projects, it's especially important for leaders to establish their presence and their credibility. To do this, it's vital to create the impression that we are competent to lead others, by ensuring we set a good example.

When projects are up and running, product delivery is the key focus for project managers. For product delivery to happen, the leader must be consistent, be able to communicate, plan, delegate and recognise the effort put in by staff. It's also important that they recognise and understand their accountability.

In essence leadership is an intangible human quality that inspires us to follow the direction set by someone else. It entails moving people towards a vision of the future, trying to make sure that everyone is moving towards the same vision at roughly the same time. This involves encouragement, motivation of others, resolving disagreements and overcoming resistance.

Ultimately effective leadership is about good manners and trust.


Melanie Franklin has authored a book entitled "Leadership Skills for Project and Programme Managers," which she co-wrote with Maven Training's Lead Trainer Susan Tuttle. The book describes situations where the need for leadership manifests itself within a project or programme, and uses examples to illustrate effective leadership within this environment.

The book has been written for managers who wish to enhance their skill set and develop confidence to effectively deal with the increasing interpersonal and communication demands that arise through the organisation of work into projects and programmes.

The book is one of a series of three:

  1. Leadership skills for project and programme managers.
  2. Communication skills for project and programme managers.
  3. Team management skills for project and programme managers.

Each one provides practical advice and real world examples, highlighting the more subtle skills programme and project managers need in order to be effective.


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