Beyond being an expert
In project management, we usually come to the profession from another path. We are first experts in a particular field. We start to work on various projects and, based on our successes, we are assigned more and more responsibilities. It is the usual and normal career progression.
As part of our professional development, it is often necessary to go beyond the life as an expert, and acquire other skills.
With more responsibilities come the obligation of learning how to manage. You will need to add management skills to your resume. Being the experts doing his own tasks is not sufficient anymore. You are now responsible for managing a project, and must be able to perform at that level.
Being a manager requires you to complete a new set of activities. Management includes all the activities required to ensure a system works as intended to achieve a goal. It includes the classic planning, organizing directing and controlling.
Here it is important to note that if expertise alone is not sufficient, the opposite is also true. Management skills alone are also not sufficient. As a project manager, it is important to manage a project for which we can add value. It does not mean being the expert, but it does mean being able to have enough of an understanding to have a meaningful conversation, make appropriate strategic analysis and decisions. In a competitive environment, there is no room for a management level that doesn’t add value.
Beyond managing the machine
This is the usual career path. Your success has been rewarded with projects more complex and more strategically important for the clients. The answers are now much less clear. You need more than your expertise and management skills.
Unless the system is already established and very stable, the combination of expertise and management skills will not be sufficient. Most of the management theories were created in the 20th century when the environment was stable, and the organization was created, structured and managed like a machine. The objective of a successful organization was to maintain the status quo in order to maintain its rank as a successful company. The world has changed, and a rigid system for many organizations is now a liability, a risk to the sustainability of the organization. Organizational agility is important, if not essential.
Leadership is the next level of professional development. Leadership is a complex concept with various potential definitions. Sometimes, the definition is focused on managing a team. Sometimes, it will be focused on influencing others without formal power or management authority. At the executive level, leadership always includes vision, strategic thinking, innovation and ideas, collaboration, coordination of activities, and a focus on taking actions to achieve a goal.
I much prefer the definition of leadership for executives. It is broader than just motivating a team. This is not to say that influencing and motivating others is not important. It is just that you need to have a good ability to create a vision, think strategically and make decisions to have followers. Only then will they accept to be influenced and motivated by you. Relying only on motivation tactics will make you look like a business cheerleader.
For sure if someone is a leader he will have to influence others. He will have to influence his team and align them toward the same goal and strategy. He will have to collaborate and influence many stakeholders.
In that sense, a leader must have strong communication skills. I would also add that he must have good social skills and a high level of emotional intelligence. Many techniques exist to enhance these dimensions of leadership. It is important to learn and use them, and continuously try to improve them. This is people skills, and projects are done by people and for people. Each person has its uniqueness, and the interaction of many persons is infinitely complex.
The ultimate level of leadership
That should be a difficult challenge on its own. But there is a higher level of leadership. The ultimate level of leadership is influencing ourselves. Personal leadership, as you could call it. And that is the ultimate level of leadership. A strong leadership development program should start there, and have most of its emphasis on personal development and self-awareness to enhance personal leadership.
This is the most powerful level of leadership. It is also the most difficult one. It is very easy to focus solely on the others. It conveniently avoids the real introspection required to grow as a person. Yes, leadership skills will include the ability to influence others. But the ultimate level of leadership is to be able to lead ourselves.With this introspection, our ability to become a strong leader is very limited.
Self-awareness and self-improvement are at the core of real leadership. What kind of leadership does a person bring if he wants to influence others, but has no influence on himself?
It is important to have a proper balance between expertise, management and leadership in project management. This balance of skills will maximize the value your bring to your projects.
Personal leadership is a continuous journey that will never end. Nobody has fully mastered his ability to influence himself. But it is the most powerful path to developing your leadership skills.
Besides, we often mention the importance of the tone at the top. As project leaders, we should lead by example. The ultimate example is to put personal leadership at the core of our professional development.
Michel Dion, PMP, CPA
Founder and Developer of Project-Aria
Discover my book:
Leadership Toolbox for Project Managers: Achieve Better Results in a Dynamic World