The terms project manager and project leader get used interchangeably all the time, and yet there are a couple important differences that can be derived from the respective terms themselves. Managers manage. Leaders lead. What this means in practice is that project leaders are responsible for establishing direction, communicating their vision to management and the workforce, and forging teams that are capable of delivering high-performance. In contrast, project managers focus primarily on short-term goals and are responsible for solving short-term problems. The project manager implements the project and solves roadblocks as they emerge.
Noting that difference, it is easy to argue that project leaders have the most difficult job of all in regard to the implementation of major change initiatives. After all, project leaders liaise between management and the workforce, and are directly responsible for ensuring the inspired execution of the agreed upon strategy. Here are the five characteristics of highly effective project leaders.
- They are strong communicators--Project leaders need to be particularly strong communicators as they must eventually provide feedback to the management and facilitate the continual improvement efforts of the men and women working under them.
- They are trustworthy—Whether project leaders come from inside or outside the organization, they must have the continued support and trust of the board of directors and management. Without this, micromanagement and inefficiencies are bound to occur over the course of a major transformation.
- They understand people—While the project leader doesn’t necessarily need to be a “people person”, he or she does need to have a strong sense of where the aptitudes and abilities of the team members lie. Putting together a team twith complimentary strengths and weaknesses helps to ensure the eventual success of the chosen project.
- They can see the forest—Being able to take the long-term view is a critical characteristic of project leadership and project leaders need to be able to see the whole as it is in order to make connections that the individual team members cannot see due to their limited scope in the overall project.
- But they can also see the trees—While taking the holistic view is critical for project leaders, they need to be able to communicate on a detailed level about all aspects of the project to any level of seniority. Possessing long-term vision will prove insufficient when it comes to managing people and their individual roles within the larger project.
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