The role of the leaders in implementing Project Management

Success or failure can be measured once there is a clear, common and practical understanding within the organisation of its values, vision, mission, and strategies.

Conversely, where this understanding doesn’t exist, there is nothing against which to measure success or failure.

This inevitably plays itself out in the day-to-day management of projects and in reports to senior management, taking the form of continuous disagreements about principles and priorities—and whether the money and time spent, and that which the project is supposed to deliver, can really be justified.

It is up to the organisation’s senior decision-makers to set the direction, to communicate it clearly, to lead, and to guide. Everyone should have a means of determining what the most important thing is that he should be doing right now—and why, and how.

It is up to the organisation’s senior decision-makers to set the direction, to communicate it clearly, to lead, and to guide.

They must communicate a clear direction

Projects are the means by which organisational goals are implemented. Therefore, goals of the organisation—its values, vision, mission and strategies can’t be vague. People can’t be expected to figure out or agree on what exactly they are supposed to do right now, or why, if they do not know where they are going.

  • The values of the organisation (“what is important to us”) are the basis for everything that it does.
  • The vision of the organisation (“where we ultimately want to be”) is formulated from within its values.
  • The mission (“how we intend to get there”) is a product of the vision.
  • The organisation’s strategies (“what routes we should take”) are formulated to fulfill the mission.
  • Projects are the implementation of strategies. They represent “what we do now to ensure that we can move further along that route”.
  • Operations are “what we do normally, every day, to keep moving towards the attainment of our vision”.

They must put in place what’s needed to get there

Project Management requires special reporting structures and processes. But project managers and project teams are not the ones who can decide who reports to whom. They are not ones authorised to put management processes and structures in place to ensure that all the senior decision-makers and team members do what is required of them.

Senior management are the ones who must assign the responsibilities, authorise and empower people to be able to do what is expected of them, and hold them accountable. They must know how to structure an environment which removes the obstacles to effective Project Management.

Project managers and project teams are not the ones who can decide who reports to whom. Senior management must know how to structure an environment for effective Project Management.

It is essential, therefore, that senior management understand the difference between day-to-day management and Project Management, and how this affects reporting and authority structures. One of the most common mistakes is to use the regular operational authority structures as project authority structures when projects involve several departments.

When senior management have not set up authority structures and reporting processes suited to Project Management, staff who have been trained in advanced Project Management techniques are often left perplexed as to why they are not succeeding in their work, in spite of dutifully planning and monitoring projects using the Project Management techniques which they have been taught.

It is essential that senior management understand how Project Management affects reporting and authority structures.

They must lead organisational learning

An organisation will not become better at managing projects if does not produce leaders. People who merely obey instructions and procedures are not leaders. People who merely issue instructions and procedures are not leaders either.

Learning is not “teaching”, and learning to lead is very different from doing courses in leadership. New ways of doing things, and changes in responsibility, authority and accountability, require new ways of thinking, and the development of new habits. Every strategic planning session, every project team meeting, every progress evaluation, every one-to-one chat is an opportunity for learning and building leadership capabilities.

Learning to lead is very different from doing courses in leadership.

Everyone in the organisation must understand his responsibility towards his own learning and the learning of his team. The principles of the learning organisation (i.e., learn, unlearn, relearn) apply to top management as well. In “letting go”, senior management must structure an organisation that emphasises learning above the mere meeting of short-term goals and deadlines.

Leaders are learners who lead learning.

The implication for training

Training people to manage projects is not the same as implementing Project Management. It is only a part of the implementation process. And because it is a part of a process, it should slot in at the right point.

The training provider cannot responsibly accept a brief to ‘train staff in Project Management’ without placing senior management in a position to understand what it would require of them to implement Project Management. Only then will it make sense to train anyone else.

Tania Melnyczuk

Director of Programme Design at ProjectManagement.co.za and the Collaboration Director of the Autistic Strategies Network.