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20 August 2007

Project Management and Project Leadership

Project management is typically not an activity carried out at the strategic apex of an organisation. More commonly it’s an activity that happens in middle to lower management, and it’s usually tactical, even though strategic management skills are often needed.

Project management is about the development and execution of a plan, and that plan is in response to a business problem or opportunity that an executive sponsor or other manager has prioritised to the top of the queue.

Project managers and project team members are experts in execution and these days it’s a very important skill.

There is a lot of focus in the PM press at the moment on the importance of soft skills; managing teams, stakeholders, suppliers and sponsors. And a common discussion in management classes – both for project managers and for MBAs is a discussion about the difference between management and leadership. The tendency is for people to think leadership is more important than management, but that’s not true. The real answer is that it depends on the context and environment.

And for the project environment where there are a number of specialists coming together to collaborate as a team there’s even less need to put one person forward as a leader. Everyone should take their turn at leadership, when their skills are called upon, and where they see a gap in the team’s performance as a group. And everyone in the team should step out of the way when someone else has the ball, and let them work to their best within their area of expertise.

What does this mean for project managers? It means that project managers should manage first and lead only when it’s their turn. Let the team members take leadership roles when it’s their time. Project managers should be experts in leading from the rear.

Henry Mintzberg, management guru agrees:

“Isn’t it time to think of our organizations as communities of cooperation, and in so doing put leadership in its place: not gone, but alongside other important social processes.”
And -

“ recognize that the very use of the word leadership tilts thinking toward the individual and away from the community.”
You can read his article to learn more on his views on leadership here: