3 ways project managers become servant leaders

Dave Wakeman
October 30, 2014

The practice of project management is changing and as it changes, the demands on project leaders are changing just as rapidly. Many executives, managers, and leaders have still come of age at a time when leadership was defined by ‘command and control’. This style was focused on the leader or manager controlling the information and only delegating tasks and giving information when it was absolutely necessary.

As our businesses and projects have gotten more complex, that style of management can’t survive because we have quickly moved beyond our managers and leaders being able to have the knowledge to make all the decisions or do all of the jobs. This requires that our leaders and managers take on a servant leadership mentality, one focused on putting the team members in a position to succeed and allowing them the ability to use their judgment to make the best decisions in service of the project.

Here are 3 key skills that will give organisational leaders and project managers the best opportunity to put their teams in a position to succeed in this new business environment:

1. Listening

In the old way of project management, the project manager had a really good grasp on the tasks and best way to do a project, but as we have more specialised roles taking over our projects, this doesn’t work as well. So the project manager needs to develop great listening skills.

Listening is going to help a project manager do a number of things within the project including: helping the project manager understand the real issues and challenges; knowing about resources issues in advance; and accelerating the process of building trust within the team.

2. Persuasion

If you have read Daniel Pink’s book To Sell Is Human you will know that persuasion is a natural part of our lives. And, as a servant leader, persuasion is going to play a big role in your ability to keep your projects on track and make sure that your team members are productive.

Persuasion is going to take on a heightened role because we can’t rely as heavily on authoritative leadership and instead need to build consensus among groups of experts and sometimes the views and ideas will be opposing.

3. People-centred focus

No matter what your project is and what audience it serves, the success or failure of your project is going to depend on your ability to get your team to focus and commit to the actions necessary to drive the project to success.

Listening and persuasion are both people focused skills, but by having a ‘people-centred focus’, I mean that the project manager needs to have empathy for the team, their issues and challenges. As well, the servant leader has to have the ability to help focus on helping team members’ advance towards their own goals and aspirations because in this new project world, the fastest way to achieve your own project success is by helping your team members find ways that they can work towards their own career development in the course of producing a project that comes in on time, budget, and scope.

The project manager that takes on a servant leadership mentality isn’t losing power in the project environment. In fact, by helping put team members in positions to achieve greater success, the servant leader may find that their power within the organisation improves because the project manager has developed team members that trust the project manager and will perform at extremely high levels.

What other ways do you think the project manager can perform more effectively in the servant leadership environment?

Author avatar
Dave Wakeman
Dave Wakeman is an expert in organisational development and works with clients in four primary areas: leadership, communications, strategy, and change. He has worked with global organisations like American Express, Google, and Best Buy. He is a recognised global expert on project management and is often asked to speak on issues important to project managers.
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