Do You Have What It Takes to Be a Project Team Leader?

Jan 24, 2019

By AMA Staff

As projects become bigger and more complex, the ability of a project manager to manage both the “big picture” and the “details” is critical for success. In fact, the “easy” part might be to learn the “hard skills,” such as using project management tools, learning the software, writing reports, and doing presentations.

Some people are born with magnetism and charisma; others might have to work a bit to develop it. As a project manager, much of your time is involved in interactions with people, even if you are a “technical” project manager. Given this, doing some objective self-analysis of how you interact with others and making refinements, if necessary, will serve you well in the long run.

What follows is a list of the most critical skills a project manager needs to create more harmony among the team and generate more project successes. A successful project leader needs the ability to:

• Negotiate and resolve conflicts
How capable are you of aiding two team members in resolving a conflict? Can you negotiate with a functional manager to get the person with the critical skills assigned to your team? As a project manager, your probability of success will increase if you have, or can develop, these skill sets.

• Build commitment within the team
Building commitment within the team starts with having a clear reason and purpose for being together in the first place. Once that is established, it is always wise to do some relationship building while the team is going through the project definition and planning process. Underlying this is your understanding of how team dynamics operates. It is not only “getting the job done” that is important—how you get it done counts—a lot to most people! There are people who would rather be on a less important project and enjoy working with the team rather than on a “hot” project where there is constant battle, personality issues, and conflict.

• Establish credibility
In order to establish credibility with your stakeholders and team members, you as a project manager have to do what you say you are going to do. This means:

—Keeping your commitments—and notifying people immediately if you cannot keep them.
—Following through and not letting things slide through the cracks.
—Having less than a 24-hour response time to e-mails and voice mails.
—Being honest about the state of the project and team.
—Allowing your team to take the credit for a job well done.

• Create a trusting team environment
While establishing credibility will create “trust” regarding you, there are a few things that can be done to create a trusting team environment, one in which the team members feel “safe” in telling the truth and saying what is on their minds.

—Facilitate the team to create “ground rules” at the beginning of the project. Insure that the ground rules are not just about the “task” part of the project management, but about the group dynamics and how the team wants to operate “together.”
—Encourage team members to get to know one another outside the project environment. One suggestion is for team members to commit to meeting any team member they don’t know well for lunch or coffee.
—When team membership changes, the team is affected as their group dynamic changes. If a new member is added to the team, explain the ground rules, insure the person can commit to what their predecessor did, and once again, encourage the current team members to spend one-on-one time with the new member.
—If the team is going to be together on the project for more than six months, it is worthwhile to have the team members take personality tests together and share the results. Each person can disclose what “gift” they bring to a team, in addition to identifying a trait that might not always work well while on a project team. This exercise allows the team members to get to know one another at a deeper level and builds their relationships with each other, thus paving the way for people to be able to deal better with their conflicts later on.

The idea is to make it OK for people, including you as project manager, to be vulnerable, that is:
—To make a mistake and admit it without fear of judgment from others.
—To speak up about concerns, even if it goes against the opinion of most team members.
—To be able to admit that you don’t have all the answers.
—To offer and accept apologies when necessary.
—To be able to be questioned about a stance without getting defensive.

Concluding Thoughts
Remember, we choose how we communicate, whether consciously or unconsciously. So pay attention to how you are communicating and how you are received by others. When you speak to the project team, watch them to see how they are responding to your words and adjust accordingly.

Communication is often cited as one of the most frequent reasons, if not the most frequent reason that a project “fails,” that is, comes in late, over budget, and/or with marginal “performance.” If communication is open, honest, direct, accurate, and used both vertically and horizontally throughout an organization, efficiency is enhanced, second-guessing stops, and hidden agendas cease to exist. And project teams experience less stress and a much higher success rate.

© 2004 American Management Association. All rights reserved. Excerpted and adapted from Project Team Leadership: Building Commitment Through Superior Communication

About The Author

American Management Association is a world leader in professional development, advancing the skills of individuals to drive business success. AMA’s approach to improving performance combines experiential learning—“learning through doing”—with opportunities for ongoing professional growth at every step of one’s career journey. AMA supports the goals of individuals and organizations through a complete range of products and services, including seminars, Webcasts and podcasts, conferences, corporate and government solutions, business books and research.