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Leading before Managing empowers Project Managers

Updated: Oct 4, 2022

We hear a lot about people leaving organizations due to lack of leadership or difficult managers… how can leadership foster customer focus and encourage employee engagement?

Many of the best project managers (PMs) are considered mavericks in a corporate setting. It is one of the few disciplines that focuses on cross-functional partnership giving the project manager resources that are neither their direct reports nor dotted line employees. In many cases, the PM has employees on their team which share resources with other projects. Yet PMs are tasked to complete a project, which has a set timeline and that includes a financial aspect. So, it is up to the PM to get the team members to complete their tasks. In fact, you can consider project managers being their own general managers of their projects, responsible for their financial performance, meeting or exceeding stakeholders’ expectations, and customer satisfaction.

So, what happens when you become the new manager to a group of individualists that run things in their own bubble? It depends on how you decide to take the reins. Before we explore some of the best ways you can manage your PMs, let us align on the basic definition of management versus leadership.

The Manager will:

  • Inform their employees what their roles and responsibilities are

  • Translate to their employees what the company requires from them

  • Oversee their employees’ work

The Leader will:

  • Inspire their people with the bigger picture

  • Develop their people improving their personality and skills

  • Motivate their people challenging them to do things they normally would not choose to do

When you come into a new manager role for a group of PMs, you need to start by knowing the person, not just the projects they are managing. Two common mistakes managers make are:

1. Micromanaging the PMs: you start believing that you can do it better and so you dive into their projects to see why they aren’t making their deliverables

2. Bullying the PMs: yes, I said it, bullying is an issue in many corporate settings where the phrase “this is unacceptable” or “just go do it” is said more than “how can I help.”

Unfortunately, this is where the company starts losing their best people. No top talent who is self-aware and successful in their projects will stay with a bad manager. In fact, in this new era, the percentage of people staying in a toxic work environment is decreasing rapidly. Empowering your people fosters confidence and self-worth, promoting a change from dealing with mavericks to dealing with team players.

PMs hold a wealth of information, like a walking encyclopedia of what can happen in a project. The more projects they have under their belts, the more expertise they develop. Imagine a world where a group of project managers leave their egos at the door and collaborate by giving input through peer-to-peer reviews. Why not tap into this expertise?

The key is to lead before you manage your project managers. Sure, you are responsible for the numbers and your employees, but being responsible does not mean being their keeper. What if we combine the manager definition with the leader definition and create a hybrid that can foster a healthy environment for the project managers?

  • Develop your employees by improving their personality and skills, which in turn will complement their role and responsibilities

  • Inspire your employees with the bigger picture, translating how the company’s performance metrics trickle down to them

  • Motivate your employees by challenging them as you oversee their work

When you lead-manage your project managers, you take advantage of their knowledge and gain their trust. One of the best ways of nurturing this atmosphere is to get them together for project reviews, showcasing their work. Fostering a safe productive environment will create trust in your team.

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