6 Ways to Find and Nurture Successful Project Leaders

Though it should go without saying, the role of leadership in project management involves a wide range of responsibilities — planning and coordination often topping the list. But no matter how much project leaders prepare for the task at hand, it can be challenging to stay the course.

Not all outcomes will go as planned, which is why leadership is important in project management. The person in charge of a project must understand more than just project management theory; they must have the right mix of skills and experience to respond correctly and promptly.

For this reason, it’s become more important than ever for an organization to not only select the right person for the right project, but also establish a solid foundation for project leaders to work from.

While the particulars will vary between different projects and project teams, you can use a few strategies to find the right person, get them in place, and provide them the necessary support for more effective project management.

To get the right leadership talent in the first place, here are some strategies to follow during the selection process:

1. Build a “skills versus results” matrix.

A “skills versus results” matrix is a great tool for targeting and grading project leadership candidates against each other.

Start with a column of all the skills you’re looking for in a candidate. Then, tabulate it with a row of all the results for each of the candidates. Take those findings and compare and score potential candidates against the likelihood for success.

The resulting table will provide an objective, experience-based basis for finding the candidate who has best demonstrated the skills you need in the real world.

2. Talk results.

Leadership and its role in project management success often come down to results. After narrowing down the field of potential project managers, sit down with each candidate (be they internal or external) and pose results-oriented questions. Correlate them with your matrix to see how it all lines up.

For example, ask about when they worked with others to achieve a goal, how they put a plan into action, when they’ve held others accountable, etc. Then, compare their answers with your own expectations.

You have ideas about potential issues this leader could run into. Have they experienced them before? Did they address them? Did they ask good questions to get to the heart of those concerns? Does this experience apply to what will be asked? Compare everyone’s answers, then see if their responses apply to your desired outcome.

3. Present scenarios.

Much like results-oriented questions, scenarios can give you a better idea of how candidates might use their functional skills to overcome common project challenges.

Use real-life events — like going massively over budget and time or losing a key project stakeholder — to determine their ability to respond to pressing issues. You can even allow candidates to draw on their own background and experience to explain how they might handle a compromising situation.

For example, say your organization had a failed project. Present some elements of where that initiative went wrong and ask how this person would have confronted and avoided a similar outcome. It gets their problem-solving juices flowing, and it allows you to see them in action using the tools they’ll need to succeed.

How to Support Your Team

Leadership isn’t all about talent, though. Success is a product of both nature and nurture, and having the right candidate is only half the battle. Here are some strategies for enabling these leaders once they’re selected:

1. Institute project charter best practices.

The charter is a project’s best planning tool, helping to ensure more effective project management. While project managers may use their own methodology for charter creation, it’s still essential to formalize the process.

The purpose of a project charter is to answer the five “Ws” of the proposed project: Who, What, When, Where, Why. To that end, it generally includes a justification (business case), project objectives, success criteria, project scope, overall risks, responsibilities, schedule, milestones, and budget.

Once all this is in place, turn your attention to securing the resources managers need to get up and running. Is there something missing internally that trimming the budget can help you afford? Is the schedule realistic, especially if you’re pulling in experts from elsewhere and away from their day-to-day responsibilities? Base every step of your leadership support system on what’s listed in the charter. In other words, use it as a roadmap.

2. Pull together the right supporting cast.

Leadership doesn’t happen alone. Individual accomplishments may contribute to a project’s success, but the team brings a project across the finish line. As such, project management is just as much about putting the right team together as it is having the right team leader.

Provide project managers with a team that fills all the critical roles and responsibilities of effective project management: leadership, subject matter expertise, data analysis, scheduling, project coordination, and administration.

3. Leverage technology.

In today’s business environment, one of the keys to effective leadership in project management is technology. Project teams need the right tools to enable seamless collaboration, communication, and planning.

After all, the variation of project management needs (e.g., deadline management, financial oversight, time tracking) can’t be handled manually or by just one person or team. Technology does the heavy lifting so project teams can work more efficiently without fear of something falling through the cracks.

A robust technology tool streamlines the process. Plus, it can go a long way toward setting a project — and the people steering it — up for success.

No two projects are alike, which means effective leadership in project management will look different as your company moves from initiative to initiative. But you still want the proper framework in place to increase the chances of project success. It all starts with the candidate, and then providing the necessary resources to see the project to completion.

If you’d like to learn more about what Project Assistants can do for your business or need additional information about one of our project management solutions, please let us know. A member of our team would be more than happy to explore your options.

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