Engaged leadership creates results. However, results in projects do not come from leadership alone; management skills and domain expertise are just as important qualities.
Balancing leadership and management
The perfect project manager has balanced amount of the three qualities: Leadership, Management and Expertise.
Leadership and management are interconnected, and one cannot exist without the other, however when finding the perfect project manager, we need a balance. The management-part can be read in a book, there is correct results, appropriate actions; it is possible to analyse and derive decisions and logic can be applied. The leadership-part is about people, one can have a natural flair for it and it can be thought and trained. Only reading a book cannot learn it, and there is no single correct way of doing it.
Leadership without management will create a lot of visions but hardly any results, because the break-down, planning, execution and follow-up and so forth are management disciplines.
Management without leadership will create plans, structure and we will know if the project is “on schedule” but we will not necessary know if it is the right schedule or if the project is moving in the right direction.
In some cases comprehensive management can compensate lack of leadership as well as the other way around. However, that will always increase the risks of the project. What we are looking for is a balance between these two.
The right amount of expertise
Expertise in project management is essentially about being able to ask the right questions and understanding the answers. Having a project manager with solid expertise is the best way to ensure that projects are delivering the right results. The more solid the foundation for asking the right questions is, the lower the risk of the project. Personal network also plays a vital role – knowing whom to call for tips and who can tell you which questions are good to ask (this is where LinkedIn comes in real handy).
Expertise can be both too much and too little. In the extreme case of no expertise, an expert can be associated, however it will induce higher risk. In the other extreme where the project manager is an expert, that induces several risks, including lack of focus on leadership and management.
Sector knowledge is not expertise, and it is most often it is not deeply needed if solid expertise is present. All sectors argue that they are special and that without previous experience leading a project in a particular sector you cannot succeed. That is far from true in IT projects.
Leading an IT project in two sectors as different as finance and health care will, given that the project manager has solid IT expertise, not require previous experience in the sector.
The two sectors differ i many ways, the most noticeable being that finance are heavy on the numbers (and thus have high requirements for management) and that health care are people-centred (and thus have high requirements for leadership). However, from a IT project delivery point of view both sectors have mission critical systems that suits to solve business problems, and the development process, IT solutions and quality requirements are, in essence, not vastly different whether building mortgage systems or patient journals.
The need for sector knowledge becomes apparent though when a project manager with no IT expertise is to manage a IT project. In it self that is a high risk situation, but many years of experience in a particular sector can somewhat compensate for that. Not understanding the technology but deeply emerged in the business can lead to the project making hard work out of relatively simple technical challenges.
Being a project manager in an IT development and implementation project requires IT expertise as well as proportional amounts of leadership and management.
Sector knowledge can be useful, but it must never be present on the sacrifice of the most important qualities. When balanced leadership, management and expertise is present, sector knowledge can be a plus – never a requirement.
“When balanced leadership, management and expertise is present, sector knowledge can be a plus – never a requirement”
Finding the perfect project manager
The perfect project manager has a balanced amount of Leadership, Management and Expertise – combined with sufficient self-insight to know own strengths and limitations.
Use these three qualities as starting point when searching and selecting project managers. It is a great tool to find the right match.