Leadership for Project Managers

PM Center Insider

– Interview with Dr. Casey Reason, Best-Selling Leadership Author and PM Center Faculty

By Emad Rahim, Endowed Chair of PM Center of Excellence  

Dr. Casey Reason profile

Dr. Casey Reason is an author, speaker, trainer, and innovator who uses the new science of learning to train leaders and inspire lasting innovation. He’s also the president of an internationally acclaimed company that’s been designing innovative virtual learning systems since 2001, and formally served as a program Chair for Ken Blanchard College of Business. He is author of Stop Leading Like It’s Yesterday: Key Concepts for Shaping Today’s School Culture and 100 Days to Leadership Impact, and teaches leadership and communication for the Project Management Center of Excellence.  

You specialize in teaching leadership. Can you tell us how leadership skills are important to project management? 

Leadership skills are essential to project management in two important ways. First, in conceptualizing a project and its execution requires the ability to have vision and to understand both how systems work and how individuals within that system make it work. The ability to conceptualize that represents a leadership skill associated with vision that is very important. Secondly, the management or execution of a project requires the capacity to be flexible, make judgements, and certainly work towards maximizing the performance of others. Clearly just having a project plan isn’t enough. The human factor associated with higher levels of performance or other variables are significantly impacted by a leader’s ability to get the most out of others and to maximize the potential for performance.

How do project managers use leadership? Could you provide some examples in when leadership is important on projects? 

In many cases project managers may have to make either a minor or significant adaptation either to the plan itself or with respect to how participants are going to approach these specific challenges. A project manager who lacks leadership may simply seek to execute the plan exactly as it is written and/or may not take into account these essential differences in plan execution based on performance. Good leaders, however, execute their projects with these subtle demarcations in mind.

If leadership skills are so important for project managers why do you think so many companies overlook it when assigning a person to lead a project? 

We sometimes feel more comfortable talking about project management over leadership because of the fact that it is more tangible. In general, human beings are more comfortable with things they can actually see, feel, and specifically relate to. It is easier, for example, to examine the relative sanity of organizational charts and job descriptions rather than dealing with the leadership skills that are required to make them effective.

You have written and conducted extensively on the topic of leadership, where do you see the project management profession going in the next 5 years? 

In my newest book I talk about collaborative teams and the use of technology in virtual connectivity to shape progress and goal attainment. Without question, in the next five years more of our project are going to be executed using these technologies and this ability to connect and communicate will continue to shape the work of leaders and project managers. In the future, leaders will have to become increasingly adroit at managing large projects at a distance wherein most or all of the participants have never met each other and in some cases haven’t even spoken to one another in synchronous conversation. Getting conformable with asynchronous communication and making sense of those communications will pay significant dividends in the future.

Can a person without a traditional project management background or with a lack of leadership skills get into the profession? Can you provide some guidance?

The simple answer is no. You simply cannot do a competent job in project management without some project management experience and training. You also need some leadership experience as well. This doesn’t mean, however, that you necessarily have to have a degree or credential in these areas to be effective. As is the case with almost any learning objective, salient outcomes can be achieved when people roll up their sleeves and work hard. Indeed there will continue to be opportunities for competent project managers who come to the position with perhaps far less experience in training than others. Their work, however, will be made more difficult and in some cases they will certainly have to go back and redouble their efforts to learn those things that they were lacking in the first place. Training is required. There are obviously allowances and flexibility in how we get that training.

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