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David Barrett’s Monthly Blog

Sounds simple. Almost sounds too basic. But in my travels I can tell you that this is the biggest issue that project managers have. Scheduling is easy. Balancing resource loads is tougher. Managing scope creep is tough and getting tougher.

But in the end, it’s the people that make the job the hardest. If you do not know how to manage people, work with people, deal with stakeholders, talk to senior management – then I think you are in the wrong business.

So often we are working with people who do not report to us. We have to make them believe in us, work with us and be lead by us.

Often we are working with people in another office – very seldom working face to face. That’s even harder.

And what about these new ‘virtual teams’? The toughest of all – especially through different cultures.

Then we have Baby Boomers trying to manage Gen Xers, and Gen Ys working with Gen Xers and no one can understand why people are acting like they do?

I heard a great story from a vendor of one of those personality assessment organizations, contracted to help a US company that had just acquired a company in Ireland. The first year was terrible. Fighting, bickering, nothing got done and the integration of the two companies went nowhere.

The personality assessment folks took all managers off site and handed them the assessment. Afterwards, they put a coloured hat on each person indicating their personality type: the type As in red, the artists in green, and so on. The first exercise simply had them stand in a room in groups of coloured hats and look around. All they heard was “ahhhhh – so this is our problem!”. Once they figured out that everyone at the management level wasn’t a type A, red hat control type, they started to get the job done.

We all need to step back and figure out who our teammates are. What colour hat they might wear. We need to find out where the strength and weaknesses are; where we are at risk as a team.

As leaders, we need to discover each team member’s gifts and leverage them. Like the guy in the corner who can tell the best jokes to lighten things up when it all gets too stressful. Simple. But a great contribution to a team.

As leaders we need to take leadership seriously. We should all be taking leadership courses of some sort every year – and there are plenty of them out there.

As leaders, we need to be more open, more adaptable and, in many cases, we need to lighten up. Most people want to be lead. They want a strong leader who will make them all look like stars in the end – once the project is delivered. No one wants to fail. And failure never lands on just the project manager’s head. It affects us all.

Start tomorrow. Look at your team or teams. Write down something positive about each member – highlighting a strength. Find a way to use that strength and highlight that person’s contribution over the next two weeks.

Make a hero out of someone!

David Barrett is publisher of Project Times, Conference Director, ProjectWorld and BusinessAnalystWorld, and Program Director of The Masters Certificate in Project Management, Schulich Executive Education Centre.

Mike Morton

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