The Project Manager, Leadership and Trust

As project mangers we are first and foremost, managers.  A simple definition of what managers do is to get things done through people.  There are four activities that a manager performs in order to achieve this objective:

  1. Plan
  2. Organize
  3. Lead
  4. Control

Various sources, such as the PMBOK guide, go into elaborate detail on how to plan, organize and control projects.  Leadership is a different story.  There is no clear guide to being a good leader.

The ability to lead is rooted in the sum of the persons character, integrity and soft skills.  The ability to lead is what sets great project managers apart and it is not a technique. The ability to lead is a part of the art of project management.

Even though leadership is often only thought of from the point of view of the leader, a leader is nothing without followers.  True follower-ship is a choice, and the choice to follow someone is not made willingly if that follower does not trust the person chosen to lead.

Trust is the willingness of a person to be vulnerable and take risks.  In order to do this a follower must see the leader as trustworthy, which requires that the follower sees the leader as having integrity, ability and benevolence toward them.

According to Kouzes and Posner in their book “The Truth About Leadership” there are four behaviors a leader can exhibit to be perceived as trustworthy:

  1. Predictable and consistent behavior. When people know they can count on a leader, then the leader’s words and actions are more likely to influence others
  2. Clear communication. When a leader communicates about an intention, it will be viewed as a promise by others.  Effective leaders are clear about their meaning and as a result, do not mislead.
  3. Promises are treated seriously.  When leaders treat commitments seriously, others do also.
  4. Forthright and candid behavior If leaders are forthright and honest, others will have less reason to be angry or try to deceive in retaliation.

So why is it important for a project manager to have the trust of their teams?  I think this was well illustrated for me recently when a project manager mentioned that they have limited authority over team members because in the end they do not decide their employment, promotions, or raises.  This means that they must lead their teams through influence.

This insight reinforces that project managers, maybe even more than other managers, cannot rely on authority but must truly be leaders so that their team members will choose to follow them.


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