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The secret to successful project leadership

Almost every business will lead a major project over their lifetime, no matter their size, industry, sector or location, and in today’s project-driven business landscape, project managers play a central role in ensuring projects are completed efficiently and successfully.

Today, the largest and most complex projects demand the highest budgets, various strands of communication with stakeholders, and often face unique technological and sustainability challenges.

So, what steps can project leaders take to increase their ability to deliver large-scale projects with confidence, collaboration, and efficiency? Strategic Project Organising, a book based on 15 years of delivering project leadership courses to executives co-authored by Graham Winch, Eunice Maytorena-Sanchez, and Natalya Sergeeva, analyses what needs to be done.

Create a project narrative

The first step many successful project leaders take at the beginning stages is establishing the project narrative. This is essentially a story that will define the project’s scope, its purpose, the goals and objectives, and the plan for how it will be executed.

Developing a detailed project narrative has the ability to guide decision-making throughout a project lifecycle, help to generate stakeholder support and interest, establish clear and measurable benchmarks for success, and ensure that all involved team members have a shared understanding of the project’s mission and scope.

A key element of a successful project narrative is that it focuses on the project’s outcomes rather than outputs. This shift in perspective towards a more results-oriented approach will help a project focus leader on the broader positive impacts a project aims to achieve for all stakeholders involved, rather than just the practical deliverables.

Investing time into the early project stages

The work that’s put into laying the foundations of a project shouldn’t be overlooked, as it can significantly influence its success and trajectory. Project shaping is just as important as project delivery.

Investing sufficient time into considering the threats that may arise, allocating resources effectively, and addressing any known issues relating to legality and compliance, sets the groundwork for establishing a solid project foundation and minimises the risk of unforeseen challenges arising later in the project lifecycle.

Building strong team relationships

Ensuring that all members of a project team share the same objectives is paramount. Effective, transparent, and regular communication between project divisions helps to foster an open and collaborative environment where all project members are encouraged to share their thoughts, concerns, and ideas and psychological safety is prime.

Building strong professional relationships not only enhances collaboration, and increases knowledge sharing, it also contributes to the overall satisfaction and productivity of every person involved in a project through higher levels of motivation and morale.

Becoming receptive to change

One of the only aspects of business that we know for certain, is that change is inevitable. However, the hurdle that many project leaders fall at is not having the confidence to embrace the ever-changing nature and complexities of projects.

Leaders of today must be flexible, adaptable, and receptive to the ever-changing landscape of business, and the most successful leaders learn to reframe challenges into opportunities by seeing things from a completely new perspective when faced with a curve ball.

Embracing ‘the incomplete leader’

The concept of ‘the incomplete leader’ is defined by a leader’s ability to recognise the unique talents and perspectives of others throughout their team, and diffusing leadership and decision-making responsibilities appropriately.

By embracing the role of an incomplete leader in a project setting, individuals can concentrate on honing their strengths and seeking opinions and advice from others who can make up for their limitations.

Aligning with organisational and sustainability agendas

It can be near impossible to align a project with numerous differing agendas, whether they’re organisational, political, or international.

However, ensuring your project aligns with the organisation’s wider goals can support the overall effectiveness and competitiveness in the wider business landscape.

There are no doubts that environmental and sustainability factors are also key driving forces on most business agendas, and the transition to a carbon free economy depends on discovering new ways of generating and transmitting energy in all aspects of a project, from operations to transportation.

Incorporating sustainable practices into every area of a project is not only a moral and ethical responsibility, but also a strategic decision that can lead to long-term benefits for both the project scope, and the wider community.

Looking at the bigger picture

Understanding the bigger picture means thinking about how your individual actions can affect the overall success of a project and organisational objectives in the long run, rather than getting caught up on minor details.

Leaders who have a clear understanding of the ultimate goals and desired outcomes of a project enables them to communicate effectively with all parties involved, identify opportunities for synergy between teams, and enables a culture of continuous improvement where lessons learned from one project can be applied to enhance future initiatives. This is the art of “projecting” our desired futures.

Final thoughts

Alliance Manchester Business School prides itself as a thought leader and academic pioneer in the area of Project Management, home to a vast amount of academic and industry-related knowledge in the field.

Our 4 day short course, Leading Major Projects, led by Professor Graham Winch, Dr Eunice Maytorena-Sanchez and Dr Natalya Sergeeva, showcases Alliance Manchester Business Schools expertise and industry insights of our academics through an in-depth exploration of the key skills, frameworks and abilities every project leader should have in their toolkit.

Blog posts give the views of the author, and are not necessarily those of Alliance Manchester Business School and The University of Manchester.

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