A manager stands where he sits; the leader sits where he stands
THE PM JOB
In this final article about leadership, we look at the nitty gritty details of a day in the life of a project manager.
When to get involved. The project manager will be busiest in planning the work. Once the planning is done, the team gets mobilized, the work begins and the project manager watches in order to gauge when to get involved. Getting involved is a little bit like step dancing.
- Step out. While things unfold according to plan, the project manager should stay out of the team’s way. As project manager, you should trust in the abilities of your team’s internal leadership, and trust that your people want to do a good job. When issues arise, allow those closest to the problem the freedom to find a solution. Most of the time, satisfactory outcomes will come out. Focus instead on the overall performance of the work through the performance assessment metrics gathered in real time. Keep your eyes on the big picture and its metrics.
- Step in. Not every issue will get resolved at the insipient level. That’s when the project manager gets involved directly. You provide guidance to the parties to arrive at a mutually acceptable solution. Remind yourself and everyone in the room that the desired solution is the one that best serves the interests of future asset, not of any person or group. Abstain from taking sides.
- Step on. When issues fester, the project manager must step on the scene to make the decision and get on with things. At this stage, which will inevitably come up, you must be prepared to assert your authority and dictate, in fine, the terms of a resolution. This is never an ideal situation. However, the situation cannot be allowed to take on a life of its own. Project managers get paid the medium high bucks for this very reason. The good ones will know how to shepherd the team through the unsettling times without disrupting the overall flow of the work. The bad ones won’t.
The other instance when the project manager must take full control is in times of crisis. Crisis management is a fundamental role of the project manager, whose authority is also justified on that basis. Whether it is an external crisis, an internal incident, or simply a slowly unfolding train wreck, the project manager must be prepared to take charge in unequivocal terms, impose order and discipline, control the message, and get everyone on the same marching orders.
Speak softly. Now comes the matter of the project manager’s voice. By virtue of her vested authority, the project manager has no equal among the team. Hence, any comment, suggestion, pronouncement or hint offered by the project manager will be interpreted by everyone else through the lenses of that authority. An innocent comment made by the engineering manager will not be heard the same way when coming from the project manager. This authority, tacitly understood by all, taints every word – and silence – of the project manager. You, as project manager, must never forget the quiescent veil draped over your authority. Speak sparsely; speak wisely; and never speak mindlessly
Blind spots. One of the hardest things for anyone, and for leaders in particular, is to exert a vigilant mental discipline against the dangers of “confirmation bias”. In psychology, the expression describes the propensity of a person or group of people to filter information in such a way that it strengthens or confirms a starting hypothesis or belief. The bias also tends to minimize or negate alternate interpretations. Every person possesses one or more such blind spots. Every group and organization is prone to them. The bias intensifies as a function of the emotional charge of an issue and acts as default position when ambiguity or ambivalence surrounds variegated options. It can be exceedingly difficult for a leader to discover one’s own blind spots. It is always best to seek feedback from peers, subordinates and spouses (especially). Let us heed the wisdom of the English physicist and chemist Michael Faraday who, on the occasion of a lecture entitled “Mental Discipline” delivered to the Royal Institution on May 6, 1854, explained why people have such a hard time changing their minds:
“Among those points of self-education which take up the form of mental discipline, there is one of great importance, and, moreover, difficult to deal with, because it involves an internal conflict, and equally touches our vanity and our ease. It consists in the tendency to deceive ourselves regarding all we wish for, and the necessity of resistance to these desires. It is impossible for anyone who has not been constrained, by the course of his occupation and thoughts, to a habit of continual self-correction, to be aware of the amount of error in relation to judgment arising from this tendency. The force of the temptation which urges us to seek for such evidence and appearances as are in favour of our desires, and to disregard those which oppose them, is wonder great. In this respect, we are all, more or less, active promoters of error. In place of practicing wholesome self-abnegation, we ever make the wish the father to the thought: we receive as friendly that which agrees with, we resist with dislike that which opposes us; whereas the very reverse is required by every dictate of common sense. The inclination we exhibit in respect of any report or opinion that harmonizes with our pre-conceived notions, can only be compared in degree with the incredulity we entertain towards everything that opposes them. It is my firm persuasion that no man can examine himself in the most common things, having any reference to him personally, or to any person, thought or matter related to him, without being soon made aware of the temptation and the difficulty of opposing it… That point of self-education which consists in teaching the mind to resist its desires and inclinations, until they are proved to be right, is the most important of all, not only in things of natural philosophy, but in every department of daily life.”
Further insights can be gleaned from chapter 3 of Investment-Centric Project Management, available on Amazon.com.