I was thinking about this topic the other day when I was driving through the check-in point of a gated neighborhood in Las Vegas. The person manning the booth had a shirt on with a badge – but it was a patch, not a real shiny metal badge. The idea is…this person has authority and they are helping to maintain everyone’s safety, but the aren’t an actual law enforcement officer…and thankfully that level of security isn’t necessary! But they are an authority figure and deserve respect and they are professional and their orders are to be followed.
So what am I getting at? It’s a leadership concept. And an attitude as well. Project managers don’t carry the title of CEO, CIO, COO, PMO Director or other key leadership role titles, but they are project leaders and are due the respect that goes with the title and responsibility.
But they also must earn it…no question about that. Just like the night security guard must earn the position and people’s trust, respect and obedience by being in control and upholding all of the rules and policies that they are charged with upholding even if their badge is only a patch, project managers must also properly lead and uphold rules and policies in order to gain and keep their teams’ and customers’ respect and obedience over time. Yes, it comes with the position, but that will only get you so far. If you don’t perform as expected once you’ve been in the role for a period of time that ‘forced’ respect and obedience will go away and it will be difficult to get anyone to trust you or follow you.
So what must PMs do then? They must:
Lead by example
Be honest, upright, above reproach and above all, do what you say you’re going to do. If you want your team to follow you and rely on you then you need to be reliable. Look organized, be organized. Don’t cancel meetings on a regular basis or skip other people’s meetings. Pay attention to detail just as you expect others to pay attention to detail and deliver quality output.
Don’t neglect your organizational duties and connections. Stay connected internally – it can only serve you well in the long run. When you need assistance on a project or to get past an issue or knock down a barrier, you need those connections to help you do that quickly to keep a project on track. If you act like an island then you won’t have any allies to turn to when you or your project are in need.
Fight for the team and the project
Your team and customer need to see you fighting for your project. If you can’t get the right resource when you need it or if one is being taken from you, then fight with management to get the right replacement or the right skill set onboard ASAP. Don’t be complacent when your project is on the line…even if it is currently in a lull. Stay focused on the goals and mission of the project and proactively (and reactively when necessary) work to keep that project on track. Your team and your customer are always watching your leadership directions and abilities and they are constantly taking cues from it. If you want them to treat you like a leader then you need to own your projects and show everyone how important they are to you.
The key is it isn’t that hard to gain the respect of your team or your customer. Stick to best practices and focus on the end goals of the project and uphold the policies and processes that you are bound to. And also make sure that you’re giving your projects equal time – or at least the amount of attention that any given project needs at any given time. If your team or your customer sees you focusing all of your time and effort on another ‘important’ project and thwarting your management and oversight duties on their project, then it’s going to be increasingly hard to gain any respect, obedience or loyalty from them. They’ll treat it as important as you’re treating it and you’ll be the one suffering for its failure. ALL projects are important – and that starts with the project manager.