Focus on the business benefits
There are many ways to show leadership on a project, and some of them will be relatively be more visible to managers who have influence over your promotion. One way is to show interest in the project’s long-term objectives and benefits. Don’t make the mistake of leaving the project’s business case and strategic decision-making solely to the executive sponsor. Instead, partner with senior managers and take joint responsibility for delivering the project’s ultimate benefits. Learn about the business, ask lots of questions about the commercial context and how the project could add more value to your client. With that information you are much better placed to lead the project and influence decisions.
Identify new and better ways of working
Another tip is to continuously push the boat and look for ways in which your team or organisation can improve and innovate. You can do that by regularly taking time out with your team to review your working practices and look at ways in which you can add more value and work smarter. To get your team to step in and take on the challenge, ask lots of “what if” questions: What if we could do this faster and cheaper? What if we could start all over? What if we could be the best team in the industry? Be supportive of the ideas that come forward and commit to implementing the best ones. And remember that people will only contribute if they feel that it’s safe to do so, and if there’s something in it for them.
Build strong relationships of trust
One of the most important aspects of your role is to lead people towards a common goal and ensure that your stakeholders support you in reaching that goal. Spend a significant amount of time in one-on-one conversations; asking your stakeholders what a successful outcome looks like in their eyes, how they feel the project is progressing and how they would like you to communicate with them. It’s a basic set of questions, but many project managers don’t take the time to fully explore them and thereby fail to gain buy-in and build trust. You can build trust when you demonstrate your competence, deliver on your promises, make people feel understood, and when you communicate with clarity.
Name the real issues
On the topic of communication, it’s imperative that you are able to name the real issues and recommend a clear way forward if you want to show leadership. If you aren’t honest about the true state of the project it’s impossible for senior managers to help you move it forward and trust your leadership. Begin by talking about the real risks and issues at the project’s steering committee meetings and how to address each item. No one is interested in problems, so focus on the way forward. To support your recommendations, carry out an impact analysis of each option and provide senior managers with sufficient information for them to make a decision.
And lastly, why not strive to be a role model for people around you and focus on excellence in everything you do? Then the results will invariably follow.
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