Go on a QUEST from project management to project leadership. Senior Manager John Kackley explains behaviors and supportive tools that lead to successful project leadership.

Recently, my colleague Roshan Stouwie and I presented on the topic of “Project Leadership” at a Centric Learning Seminar (you can listen to it here). Another of my colleagues, Ted Perez, posed a critical question near the end, which I will paraphrase and embellish:

“Great, you’ve told us what project leadership is, now how about telling us how to do it?”

Roshan and I had been focusing on awareness, but now it looks like we had whetted appetites for the next step. So here are five behaviors for project leadership, including the tools you can use to support those behaviors:

1. Question everything, assume nothing

When we assume things about a project or our role, we give up empowerment. Every time we say something like “they won’t let us do that” or “that’s not in our scope,” we’re shrinking the playing field for solving problems and delivering the needed business outcome.

So, question everything, assume nothing. However, having questioned something and gotten an answer, you have to understand when to accept the boundaries of the situation.

Tools: statement of work, project charter, company/department culture, stakeholder discussions

2. Understand

We’ve just made the chessboard bigger (pardon the change in metaphors), but how do we know what’s a good move?

We need to know what drives the project – why is it being done, and what objectives are there? This is not just ROI. A cultural shift may be just as important.

Also, what does the company value? What does the project team value?

Understand these things, and you can drive solutions that will resonate.

Tools: mindmap of everything needed for project success, discussions with sponsors and stakeholders, discussions with teams, feedback and retrospective sessions

3. Engage

The core of project leadership is engagement. It’s where we go from monitoring a project to leading it. Don’t just ask for the status on an issue. Be a part of resolving it.

And don’t limit who you engage with. Work with your client, your team, external contractors, and anyone else who will have a hand in the final product.

Tools: team stand-ups, culture-fit communication tools, one-on-ones, deliverable reviews in all directions, issue/risk tracking and resolution

4. Set the Tone

As a project manager, you will communicate with more people on your project than practically anyone else will. This gives you the opportunity to set the tone of the project – and become a project leader as a result.

You can set the attitude of the project, the vocabulary, the expectation of teamwork, the atmosphere of mutual respect and communication. Be explicit in what you think the project needs, and then demonstrate the desired behavior.

Tools: project kickoff, goal setting, team agreement on engagement, everyday demonstration of values

5. Take responsibility

When you take responsibility for the project’s outcome, you are actually getting rid of something else. You’re losing the cover of excuses. No more “they didn’t let me” or “there was nothing I could do.”

When you take responsibility, you are making a commitment to make the changes needed for success, rather than just making do with what you were handed. Project leadership is making changes rather than making do.

Tools: proactive identification of concerns, issue resolution, review of requirements and design, change requests, project budget, project resource management

If you adopt these and build upon them as suits your personality, skills, and situation, then you’ll be well down the road to being a project leader, not just a project manager.