Welcome to the first article in a series of three by Susanne Madsen, who is an expert project leadership coach. This article series is an extract from Madsen’s award-winning book: The Power of Project Leadership: 7 Keys to Help you Transform from Project Manager to Project Leader. Notice all articles can be read without knowledge of the previous ones.

 The Power of Project Leadership

Here is your overview of the project leadership articles series:

  1. Project Leadership: The World is Changing and so Must You 1/3

  2. Project Leadership: The 3 most Fundamental Mistakes Project Managers Make 2/3

  3. Project Leadership: Moving from Project Management to Project Leadership 3/3

The article series will cover the following:

  • the differences between management and leadership;
  • the three most fundamental mistakes that project managers make;
  • how technological, social, cultural, and economic change is affecting you and what you can do to work with it rather than against it;
  • how the 7 keys to project leadership can help you break free from the management trap;
  • the five areas of emotional intelligence that can help you move towards leadership.

Management versus leadership

In recent years there has been much debate on how to characterize management versus leadership. Management is said to be the discipline that specializes in maintaining the status quo, conforming to standards, and organizing and directing individuals around the boundaries that have been set to achieve the task. These boundaries relate to time, money, quality, equipment, human resources, and anything else that involves achieving that assignment.

If you are a good manager, it means that you are good at producing a set of products and services in a predictable way, day after day, on budget, and to consistent quality. It is a discipline that requires you to be rational and logical and to make use of certain skills and methods.

Leadership, on the other hand, is concerned with setting goals, making improvements to existing ways of working, and motivating and leading the team to reach this new direction. It is characterized by certain behaviors, such as sharing an inspiring vision, producing useful change, leading by example, empowering others, and creating the most conducive environment for team success. Leadership is not about the specific skills you possess but about how you approach an assignment and how you relate to others.

Susanne Madsen received the PMI UK National Project Awards 2019 – Project Management Literature Category – on November 14th – 2019.

One of the main differences between management and leadership is the way in which the two disciplines motivate people and teams to achieve objectives.

Managers rely on their authority and on task-related boundaries to get work done. Leaders, on the other hand, influence, inspire, and appeal to people at an individual level. They strive to get the best out of people by aligning each person’s individual objectives to those of the project and organization.


READ ALSO: Top 20 Tips to be the Best Project Leader


The differentiating factor between the two disciplines isn’t the level of cognitive ability or technical skills that someone has – it is to a large extent their level of emotional intelligence (EQ). Managers may have a high level of cognitive intelligence or IQ, but not necessarily EQ. They may be good at implementing effective management systems, but they aren’t necessarily good at communicating change or bringing people with them.

Leaders are skilled at understanding, motivating, and influencing people. They keep their emotions in check and set a great example for others to follow. Because of their people skills, their approach is often described as transformational rather than transactional. These leaders are able to build strong relationships with others, whereas people with low EQ may be socially out of touch and have problems working in teams due to their individual behaviors.

It’s difficult to imagine a great leader who doesn’t have a high level of emotional intelligence. Think about some of the leaders or role models you have worked with over the years. Would you agree that they have something over and above cognitive intelligence? The good news for all of us is that in contrast to IQ, our level of EQ is never set. Emotional intelligence is a flexible skillset that can be learned and improved upon at any age.

Another way of illustrating the differences between management and leadership is that managers are effective at chopping down trees according to a set schedule, whereas leaders will climb to the top of the trees and may declare that they are not even in the right forest! In other words, managers are concerned with doing things right, leaders with doing the right things.

Figure 1.1 illustrates the main differences.

Project Leadership: The World is Changing and so Must You

As we move into the heart of this book, we will explore the differences between management and leadership in more depth and you will come to understand how these two disciplines can be combined to create the best possible conditions for you, your client and your team. Project leaders make use of both disciplines, but as you grow and develop in your career, you will likely come to rely on leadership over and above management.

Leadership is not attained through a job title but through a continuous journey of introspection, observation, and development

It is worth emphasizing that in contrast to project management, leadership is not a destination you reach – for instance, through a specific type of job – as it is related to the attitudes and behaviors you display more than the skills you possess. In that sense, it is possible for someone in a project management role to be perceived as a leader due to the behaviors the person exhibits, and it is equally possible for someone in a CEO role to be perceived as a non-leader. Leadership is not attained through a job title but through a continuous journey of introspection, observation, and development.

The More-for-Less Culture is Upon Us

Traditionally, a good project manager was someone who was logical as well as rational and effective at dealing with events, tasks, and processes. It was someone who would work to the client’s brief and use his or her authority to deliver the desired outputs. Often, this type of project manager would study best practices and company procedures so that the individual could play by the rules and ensure that the standards were upheld. By understanding how the firm operated, the project manager could blend in, adopt the company culture, and ensure that his or her team would continue to contribute to the way things had always been done.

But this approach no longer works. We cannot rely on the old ways of delivering projects, as the world is becoming increasingly complex and competitive with a growing need for adaptability, innovation, and better use of human resources. As one executive put it, ‘If a project manager just follows orders he is not much use to me’ (1).

The global economy moves in cycles of ebb and flow and every time the economy takes a jolt, we downsize and scrutinize the types of projects that get approved for implementation. Many people think that we go back to normal when an economic crisis is over, but in reality that never happens.


READ ALSO: What is Delegation in Management and How to do it Effectively?


Each downturn makes the world a more competitive place and forces us to look for new and better ways of doing business. When the economy bounces back, jobs aren’t added back into the economy at the exact same places where they disappeared. Instead, jobs are created in new areas, performing new activities. Old working patterns have been replaced by something new.

What that means for project managers is that we have to adjust to changing economic climates. Not only do we need to up our game in order to both be considered for a job and keep it, but we also need to look for new ways we can deliver the same outcomes and benefits to our clients with fewer resources.

Essentially, the more-for-less culture is upon us, with a demand for faster, cheaper and better-quality projects, a quest that is not without challenges.

success in our complex world comes down to how quickly we can learn from past mistakes, adapt and adjust

– Tim Harford

It requires that we continuously question, innovate, take risks, and change the practices that are no longer serving us. As Tim Harford, an economist and author of Adapt, argues, success in our complex world comes down to how quickly we can learn from past mistakes, adapt, and adjust(2).

When budgets and resources are cut, our first reaction is often one of resistance. We feel that we have to compromise and that the quality of the end deliverable is affected. We also have to spend more time justifying our projects and their expenditure, which can be very trying. In his best-selling little book on change, Who Moved My Cheese?, Dr. Spencer Johnson writes ‘the more important your cheese is to you, the more you want to hold on to it’ and ‘the quicker you let go of old cheese, the sooner you find new cheese’(3).

‘Cheese’ represents the outdated habits and benefits that we take for granted. The more attached we are to them, the more painful it is to change. The trick is to accept that things will never be the same. We have to adapt and change.


READ ALSO: Project Leaders have a Positive and Empowering Mindset


The more-for-less culture means that project managers must become more financially aware right from the inception of a project through to its delivery and to the realization of the ultimate benefits. We have to be more focused on business value and see our primary role as delivering sustainable value to the company – not just completing projects on time and on budget.

This means that we have to help senior managers and customers select the projects that make the most economic and strategic sense by creating a business case where every benefit is related back to a dollar figure or to corporate strategy.

The team is the project’s biggest asset

In addition, we have to challenge each part of the project life cycle, the inputs and outputs, and the development methods we use, so that we can better understand how to work smarter. We must critically assess which new technologies and working practices we can employ, which extra benefits we can deliver, and – very important – how we can better utilize the human potential of our projects. The team is the project’s biggest asset, and this is where we find one of the largest opportunities for development. As Forrester Research writes, ‘The new breed of project managers must have higher levels of team-building, collaboration, and people skills, and stay well attuned to the rhythms and needs of their teams… Empathy and the ability to connect are critical’(4).

But the need to understand and work with human behavior extends far beyond the immediate project team. It relates to everyone involved in the change process – including the project’s stakeholders and the end-users.

Projects bring about change, which invariably upsets the way people are used to doing things. If project managers ignore the emotional and psychological side of the project, they will likely come across resistance and lack of buy-in, which in turn undermines the change process. Many change initiatives produce a suboptimal outcome because of this failure to engage the team and stakeholders at a deeper level.

Traditionally, project managers operate at the surface, where they are predominantly concerned with the delivery of a product or an outcome through the completion of tangible actions, tasks, and activities. It is much more uncommon to consider the values and beliefs of those involved and to deal with human behavior, fear, and resistance to change.

Case 1: Less is Definitely More

Benoit Jolin, Head of Global Supplier Experience, Expedia Inc.

My recent experience has led me to believe that two factors are contributing to a change in what executives expect from project management:

(1) urgency and the need to deliver tangible results in shorter and shorter time frames, often due to investor/shareholder pressures for rapid returns and an increasingly competitive landscape, and

(2) return on capital as we expect more from each dollar invested. As a result, what we are seeing is a growing distaste for unnecessary ceremony and planning, and a growing appetite for lean project management principles: early project de-risking through test-and-learn methods, fast-failure models, high-fidelity demos or prototypes, etc. It’s about keeping it real (read: data-driven decision-making) and focusing outcomes over outputs (read: useful, usable, and tangible results). Less is definitely more today, and the wasteful procedure is making way for more experimentation.

Case 2: Everything is wanted ‘Faster, Cheaper, Better’

Sam Fleming, Head of Project Delivery, British Gas Plc.

Everything is wanted ‘faster, cheaper, better’, which is the mantra of most executive leadership teams.

Companies are now fully bought into the ‘Single Customer View’ within their technology estates, and only invest in expensive solutions if they lead to cheaper projects of the future and a better all-round view of their customers so that communication is tailored and opportunities are gained. So the challenge for project managers is increasingly to encourage the business to ask for the right level of requirements and foster them into adopting standard functionality, moving away from costly customizations.

Case 3: Project Managers must Understand Financial and Economic Drivers

Morten Sorensen, Area VP, Global Client Services at Verizon Enterprise Solutions.

It is true that today’s expectations of rapid delivery, fast benefit realization, and faster than ever response times to changes are driving project management practices.

There is less appetite for time-consuming up-front design, detailed planning, and related project management planning documentation. There is furthermore a trend of increased expectations of more senior project management roles.

They must to a higher degree be competent in areas such as financial, business, and customer services/ solutions. Factors such as market gains, economic value, and rapid return on investments are becoming bigger drivers for business requirements and benefits realization. Project managers are increasingly being expected to relate to these aspects of the client’s environment.


READ ALSO: Develop your Project Leadership Skills in the New Year


We don’t Need more Followers; we Need Leaders!

The economic challenge is only one of many factors affecting the project management profession. In its report Hitting a Moving Target – Complex Project and Programme Delivery in an Uncertain World, the ICCPM argues that projects and programs are becoming more and more complex due to technological innovation, globalization, new economic models, growing interdependency, regulatory requirements, stakeholder activism, cross-cultural complexity, limited global resources, and sustainability.

It also argues that there is a demand for more sophisticated and flexible leaders who possess greater technical competencies alongside social, commercial, and relationship skills coupled with determination and courage.

The ICCPM writes that:

The time has come to reorient our perspective; from a solely linear, ‘inside the box’ focus to a holistic view that includes the linear, but also enables us to think and act from a point of higher leverage, thus ensuring that we have the information and capability to steer projects dynamically in times of high complexity, ambiguity and rapid change. On the ground, we must be aware of what’s going on outside as well as inside the project; be able to acknowledge and integrate multiple, often competing, interests; be flexible enough to respond; and if necessary, change direction without apology(5).

That may initially strike you as a dramatic and daunting situation, but although it does require you to step up and sharpen your saw, it also opens up huge opportunities for your personal and professional growth in addition to the benefits it brings to the team, the organization, the customer and the wider society.

Learning from past mistakes and making an adjustment to how you think and behave may be the single biggest factor that can help improve project delivery.

If you take on the challenge and adapt, you are likely to stand out as a leader and a survivor. As Charles Darwin said, ‘It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change’.

In order to change your working patterns – and your mindset – you need to accept that you will have to do things differently going forward. You will not get better results by continuing to do what you have always done. It is a sad truth that many people know intellectually what they need to do, but are still not doing it. For that reason, I will encourage you to take lots of action, as you will get results only by starting to do things differently.

In addition, Chapter 2 is dedicated to helping you understand your values and beliefs and ‘why’ you do what you do. When you understand your beliefs and your sources of motivation, you can begin to change the decisions you make and in turn, the action you take.

To create better results on your project, you need to think unconventionally and begin to identify new and better ways in which your team and organization can work. That means that you have to have the ability to break away from what you have been taught and sometimes use uncommon sense, as common sense is likely to lead you back to where you already were.

But it is not enough that you personally do it; you need to engage and empower everybody around you to do so too.

One of the challenges you are likely to come up against is that many people have been taught to think inside the box, to conform, and to follow. Throughout school, we are being educated to deliver to well-defined assignments and to stick to the topic. As a result, we have become good at complying and looking to others for direction. We have not been encouraged to put our necks out, take risks, and lead, even if it’s the right thing to do. But our society doesn’t need more followers; it needs leaders. It is time to show courage and authenticity.

Are you ready to move forward and start thinking like a project leader?

Are you ready to move forward and start thinking like a project leader? I hope so because what you are about to learn next is how to avoid three of the most fundamental mistakes that project managers make. Please don’t feel that I am being disrespectful to my fellow project management colleagues by pointing out these fundamental shortcomings.

I am the first to put my hand up and admit that I used to fall into the exact same traps. For years I managed a large program of work, which almost led to burnout because I was working harder and harder, not smarter. I worked excessively long hours trying to get it all done.

I was micromanaging the team and felt I needed to know it all and do it all. I wasn’t accessing the genius of the team and I wasn’t being as proactive as I should have been. Let me illustrate these project management faults as simply as I can, with the sole purpose of preventing you from also making them.

GO TO THE NEXT ARTICLE IN THIS PROJECT LEADERSHIP ARTICLE SERIES: Project Leadership: The Three most Fundamental Mistakes Project Managers Make (2/3).

Notes for Project Leadership: The World is Changing and so Must You (1/3)

1 Interview with Steve Pikett, February 2014

2 Tim Harford, author of Adapt, APM conference 2013

3 Johnson, S (1999) Who Moved My Cheese, Vermilion, London

4 Gerush, M (2009) Define, Hire and Develop Your Next-Generation Project Managers, Forrester Research

5 ICCPM (2013) Hitting a Moving Target: Complex project and program delivery in an uncertain world, International Centre for Complex Project Management (ICCPM)


This extract is from The Power of Project Leadership (2nd edition) by Susanne Madsen ©2019 and reproduced with permission from Kogan Page Ltd.

We would like to thank the author, Susanne Madsen, and the publisher Kogan Page for generously sharing actionable knowledge and thereby contributing to knowledge having a real-life impact.



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