Susanne Madsen is a project leader coach, trainer, and consultant in London. She is the author of the books: The Project Management Coaching Workbook and The Power of Project Leadership. Based on many years of experience with her own business, in addition to 17 years in the corporate sector, Susanne here gives you her best top 20 tips for you to be the best project leader ever.
Top 20 Tips on how to be the Best Project Leader
- Spend your time pro-actively – the number ONE project leadership tip is to focus your attention on the long-term as opposed to being reactive and firefight in the present moment. The more time you spend planning and building relationships, the fewer issues you will encounter later in the project.
- Deliver on your promises – it’s essential that what you say is credible and that your stakeholders trust your opinion. Always be conservative in your estimates and never promise a delivery you are not sure you can meet. To be safe, produce a detailed plan and remember to build in contingency.
- Focus on business benefits – to be of ultimate value, you must focus on the delivery of business benefits to your client; not just the tangible outcomes of your project. This requires you to have a good understanding of the business domain, to challenge the status quo, and to fully embrace the project’s end goal and vision.
- Listen with your heart – one of the keys to project success is to build strong relationships– and to do that you must be able to really listen. Listen to your team members and to your stakeholders. Forget your own agenda and listen from the heart. Then great relationships will be built.
- Focus on customer needs – focus on what your customers really need rather than what they think they want. Get into their heads and involve the end users as much as possible when gathering requirements. Demonstrate and prototype the product and constantly check that what the team is building matches the requirements and customer needs.
- Act as an inspirational mentor and a guide – be an inspiration to the team and share the project’s vision and end goal whenever you can. Don’t tell your people what to do but coach them to find the right solutions and to make decisions on their own. Let your vision and engagement be the prime motivator for the team.
- Take a big picture view – step back from the project on a regular basis and take a balcony view. Observe what is going on. What is working and what is not? Examine ways in which the project could operate more effectively and take action to implement your ideas and risk mitigating actions.
- Utilize the strengths of your team – in order to build a truly motivated and high performing team, you must understand what drives each individual. Listen to each team member and understand what his or her strengths and aspirations are. Then take action to utilize them in the best possible way.
- Delegate administrative tasks – if you are to add maximum value, you must focus on those tasks that matter the most to the success of your project. That means that you must learn to delegate. Get a project administrator onboard to help with tasks such as documentation, timesheet tracking, financial tracking and low-level task tracking.
- Establish a solid foundation – before the project kicks off in earnest, spend time fully defining it, estimating it and planning it. Document your findings in a project initiation document and get it signed off by the steering committee before you proceed. This becomes the contract you deliver to.
- Take control of risks – effective project leaders consistently manage risks by asking, “what could go wrong” and “what have we not yet thought about”. Brainstorm any risks with your team on a regular basis and ask them what they worry about. Then take action to mitigate them or put in place contingency plans.
- Ask for help and guidance – have the courage to talk openly about project issues and to ask for help when required. It is a sign of strength to seek guidance when you are faced with a major decision. Your team and stakeholders will respect you for being honest and will appreciate that you ask for advice.
- Draw on the steering committee – gather the most important stakeholders on a monthly basis to make decisions about the project’s risks, issues and deliverables and to report on financials. Prepare a flawless presentation and take the opportunity to showcase the team’s good work. Summarize decisions and distribute meeting minutes within 24 hours.
- Get close to your stakeholders – to build great relationships with your stakeholders, set up regular one-to-one meetings with those who have the most power and influence over your project. Listen to their concerns and suggestions and act upon their feedback. Pay special attention to those who are opposed to the project and seek to win them over.
- Know your numbers – stay in control of your project by tracking the project’s key performance indicators. Know how much money the project is burning per month, and how much scope you have delivered to date compared to plan and budget. Include these key metrics in your project reporting.
- Get the best people involved – a large part of your success as a project leader will depend on how skilled you are at recruiting and retaining the right kind of people. Never compromise when building your team and go to great lengths to reward and motivate people who do a good job.
- Adapt your leadership style – all good leaders adapt their style to the individual they are interacting with. You can do this by providing more guidance to those team members who are inexperienced, by giving more moral support to those who lack confidence and by delegating to those who are both experienced and confident.
- Stay calm in stressful situations – set a great example for others by managing your state of mind and appearing calm under pressure. Maintain a balanced perspective and think of solutions rather than placing blame. Take on the role of a mediator whenever you can and convey both sides of the argument.
- Stand up for the project – be confident enough to stand up for yourself and your project when required. Protect your team from unnecessary noise and from unreasonable demands. Never accept an increase in scope without further funding or time allowance – and never accept a shortened time frame without reducing scope.
- Ask for feedback – one of the most rewarding actions you can take for your career and for your project is to ask for feedback. Ask the following three questions to your boss, peers and project staff: What should I continue doing? What should I start doing? And: What should I stop doing?
If you are a project leader or a project manager you’ll find Susanne Madsen’s book extremely useful. It’s called The Power of Project Leadership: 7 keys to help you transform from project manager to project leader.