Key Components of Project Leadership – Part 1 - Communication

Project leadership….how would you define it?  Confidence, organization, authority, decision-making, power, influence…anything else?  In terms of flat out project leadership, I think there are two definite components…not to belittle any of those mentioned above.  Those are important, but, in my opinion, the two main components are communication and visibility.  In Part 1 of this two part series, I’d like to discuss the communication component of project leadership.

The way I see it, communication and project leadership – or any leadership for that matter - go hand in hand. The project managers who consistently succeed in bringing projects in on time and on budget (or within generally acceptable guidelines) are those who effectively manage the interfaces and communications between people and organizations. The people working on your project, and those peripheral members of the project team, need to be comfortable with bringing issues to the project manager’s attention. This goes for people who report directly to you on the project, their managers, and your senior leadership as well. In fact, it should also include the project customer and anyone on the project customer team as they really are part of the project ‘team’ as a whole.

Here are what I consider to be some good guidelines for successful project leaders in terms of communication on the project:

  • Hold regular meetings with team members.  Have meetings with team members regularly – preferably weekly - and don’t cancel them.  Even if there isn’t much to talk about during a specific meeting, still hold the meeting.  Too many canceled meetings can lead to long-term lack of participation and attendance.  And remember, effective meetings should start with the project kickoff and should continue throughout the life of the project.
  • Meet both in groups and individually. Some things that won’t be said in front of other team members in meetings may come out in one-on-one sessions. In groups, simmering conflicts, which won’t be mentioned in private, may rear their heads.
  • Keep your team up to date on project status.  Provide your team with constant feedback on the project’s status. Be available, friendly, and willing to discuss anything that team members are burdened with - from project problems to personal problems. Include outside vendors in relevant project conversations as you deem appropriate.
  • Be an organized and efficient meeting facilitator.  Keep meetings short and to the point. Team members respect leaders who don’t waste their time. Have meetings over lunch (you buy). That way, you have the benefit of a congenial conversation coupled with time required for the project. And everyone likes a free lunch.
  • Save the hoopla for major accomplishments.  If you’re one inclined to celebrate and reward (which can be a good thing when done in moderation), save major parties and celebrations for important milestones and accomplishments. Members of your team, especially those with life commitments including families, may resent too much time spent on work-related dinners. Many people regard evening “get-togethers” as extensions to their workday.
Be effective and efficient with your written communications.  Make them count. I rely heavily on emails because 90% of what I do is remote project management of virtual teams.  But those emails still need to be meaningful because I never want them to be ignored.  If my team gets too many meaningless messages from me and starts ignoring them, critical information could fall through the cracks.  Good leaders know how to prepare effective messages. Here are some guidelines to help your messages achieve your best intentions:

  • Think about the politics.  Always think through the politics before you communicate. Before you send any message (oral or written), consider the potential effects the message may have after it is received.
  • Think about the recipient.  Be aware of all the people who will receive your message, even if they’re not on the address line or at the meeting. Consider the people who will be copied, given the cover sheet, or told about the message over coffee in the cafeteria.
  • Think about the format.  Decide on both the format for the message (email, phone, face-to-face, skype) and the timing. Writing is permanent and not soon forgotten, so always make written messages something you won’t mind being brought up again. Oral messages can be misconstrued, so if absolute clarity over time is required, put it in writing as well or follow it up with an email to confirm understanding.
  • Think about the context.  Make sure the content, tone, vocabulary, style, length, and grammar are exactly what you want to say.
  • Think about the follow-up.  Always follow up on the message to see if it was received and understood. Note reactions and ramifications so you can do better next time - or change the approach if the message didn’t accomplish what you expected.
  • Think about the length.  Keep written communication brief and to the point unless complex technical instructions are involved. No written communication should exceed one or two pages – it will never get fully read or comprehended.  You’ll lose the recipient’s attention.
In Part 2, we’ll discuss visibility as a component in project leadership as we conclude this series.

 

Brad-bio66Brad Egeland is a Business Solution Designer and IT/PM consultant and author with over 25 years of software development, management, and project management experience leading initiatives in Manufacturing, Government Contracting, Gaming and Hospitality, Retail Operations, Aviation and Airline, Pharmaceutical, Start-ups, Healthcare, Higher Education, Non-profit, High-Tech, Engineering and general IT. Brad is married, a father of 9, and living in sunny Las Vegas, NV. Visit Brad’s site at http://www.bradegeland.com/.

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