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  • Writer's pictureBrian Davidson, PMP, CSM

Project Management: From Passive Storytelling to Active Leadership

Project management is a critical skill in the modern business world. It involves planning, executing, and overseeing a project from its beginning through to its completion. Often, project managers (PMs) view their role as reporting stats: here is what was accomplished, and here is what was not. Unfortunately, this mindset often turns the PM into a passive storyteller, recounting the story of how the project team didn’t achieve the project objective. In many cases, this results in missed deadlines, overshot budgets, and frustrated teams. This article discusses this common scenario and outlines a better approach by viewing the PM as the "Project Leader". This mindset shift involves the PM feeling full accountability and responsibility to achieve the project objective, leading to empowerment. With this Project Leadership mindset, the PM is no longer just a passive storyteller, but an active participant on the team, using any and all means to break through obstacles and help the team achieve success.


The Common Scenario


In a typical project management scenario, the PM is responsible for keeping track of the project’s progress and reporting to stakeholders. This often involves collecting data on what has been accomplished and what has not, and presenting this information in meetings or reports. Unfortunately, this can lead to a situation where the PM becomes a passive storyteller, simply recounting the events that have occurred without actively participating in the project’s success or failure.


For example, consider a project where the objective is to develop a new software application. The PM may spend their time collecting data on how many lines of code have been written, how many bugs have been fixed, and how many features have been completed. They may then present this information to the stakeholders, explaining that the project is behind schedule because the development team encountered unexpected challenges or the requirements changed. While this information is important, it doesn’t help to move the project forward. The PM has simply become a passive observer, recounting the story of the project’s failures without taking an active role in finding solutions or helping the team to overcome obstacles.


This passive approach to project management can have several negative consequences:


  1. Lack of Accountability: When the PM simply reports on the project’s progress without taking an active role in its success or failure, it can lead to a lack of accountability. The PM may feel that their job is done once they have reported the facts, without taking responsibility for the project’s outcome.

  2. Lack of Empowerment: A passive approach to project management can also lead to a lack of empowerment. The PM may feel that their role is simply to report on what has happened, rather than to take charge and actively work to move the project forward.

  3. Demotivated Team: A passive PM can lead to a demotivated team. When the PM is not actively involved in finding solutions and overcoming obstacles, it can leave the team feeling unsupported and demoralized.

  4. Missed Opportunities: A passive approach to project management can lead to missed opportunities. When the PM is not actively looking for ways to improve the project or overcome challenges, it can result in missed opportunities for innovation and improvement.


The Project Leadership Mindset


A better approach to project management involves viewing the PM as the "Project Leader". This mindset shift involves the PM feeling full accountability and responsibility to achieve the project objective. With accountability comes empowerment. With this Project Leadership mindset, the PM is no longer just a passive storyteller, but an active participant on the team, using any and all means to break through obstacles and help the team achieve success.


  1. Full Accountability: As the Project Leader, the PM feels a deep sense of accountability for the project’s success or failure. They understand that it is their responsibility to ensure that the project is completed on time, on budget, and to the required quality standards.

  2. Empowerment: With accountability comes empowerment. As the Project Leader, the PM is empowered to make decisions, take action, and do whatever is necessary to move the project forward. This may involve reallocating resources, changing the project plan, or finding innovative solutions to overcome obstacles.

  3. Active Participation: As an active participant on the team, the Project Leader works closely with the team members to understand the challenges they are facing and to help them find solutions. This may involve providing support and guidance, removing obstacles, or finding additional resources to help the team succeed.

  4. Proactive Problem Solving: The Project Leader takes a proactive approach to problem-solving. Rather than simply reporting on problems after they have occurred, the Project Leader actively looks for potential issues and works to address them before they become major obstacles.


Benefits of the Project Leadership Mindset


1. Increased Accountability: With the Project Leadership mindset, the PM feels a deep sense of accountability for the project’s success or failure. This increased accountability can lead to a greater sense of ownership and a higher level of commitment to the project’s success.


2. Greater Empowerment: Feeling empowered to make decisions and take action can lead to more effective project management. The Project Leader is able to make tough decisions, take decisive action, and do whatever is necessary to move the project forward.


3. Higher Team Morale: When the PM takes an active role in supporting the team and helping them to overcome obstacles, it can lead to higher team morale. The team feels supported and valued, which can lead to increased motivation and a higher level of commitment to the project.


4. Better Project Outcomes: Ultimately, the Project Leadership mindset can lead to better project outcomes. With a proactive approach to problem-solving, a deep sense of accountability, and an active role in supporting the team, the Project Leader is better equipped to lead the project to success.


Building on the Project Leadership Mindset


The Project Leadership mindset encourages the PM to take an active role in the project rather than a passive storyteller role. It empowers the PM to use any and all means to achieve the project objective. This segment will describe a few examples of how the Project Leadership mindset allowed the PM to actively participate and achieve the objective.


Comparing Two Outcomes: Passive vs Active Project Leadership Stance


Imagine a scenario where a major deliverable of a project is facing obstacles. The deliverable is the integration of a new software system that is crucial for the operational efficiency of the company. The IT team is responsible for this task, and they are struggling with the technical complexities of the new software. There are issues with data migration, software customization, and user training. The deadline for this deliverable is fast approaching, and there is a lot of pressure on the team to complete it on time.


Scenario 1: Passive Storytelling Stance


In the first scenario, the Project Manager (PM) takes a "passive" storytelling stance. The PM is aware of the obstacles faced by the IT team but chooses to simply report the status of the deliverable in the regular project meetings. The PM communicates to the stakeholders that the IT team is facing challenges with the software integration, and there is a high risk of missing the deadline. The PM does not take any additional steps to assist the IT team in overcoming the obstacles or finding alternative solutions. As a result, the IT team continues to struggle, and the deliverable is not completed on time. This leads to a delay in the project, increased costs, and a loss of trust and confidence from the stakeholders.


Scenario 2: Active Project Leadership Stance


In the second scenario, the PM takes an "active" project leadership stance. The PM recognizes the challenges faced by the IT team and takes responsibility for helping them overcome the obstacles. The PM does not just report the status of the deliverable but takes an active role in finding solutions. The PM organizes a brainstorming session with the IT team and other relevant stakeholders to identify potential solutions to the challenges faced. The PM also researches new information and ideas that could help the team and brings in external experts for consultation if necessary. The PM lends special expertise in decision-making, meeting facilitation, and action-orientation to help the team overcome the obstacle. As a result of the PM's proactive approach, the IT team is able to find innovative solutions to the challenges, complete the deliverable on time, and meet the project objectives.


Comparison


In the first scenario, the PM takes a passive approach and simply reports the status of the deliverable without taking any additional steps to assist the team. This leads to a delay in the project, increased costs, and a loss of trust and confidence from the stakeholders. In contrast, in the second scenario, the PM takes an active project leadership stance and proactively works with the team to find solutions to the obstacles faced. This results in the successful completion of the deliverable on time, meeting the project objectives, and maintaining the trust and confidence of the stakeholders.


Conclusion


Adopting an active project leadership stance enables the PM to play a crucial role in the success of the project. By taking responsibility and accountability for achieving the project objective, the PM can actively participate in the project, using any and all means to break through obstacles and help the team achieve. This proactive approach leads to better project outcomes, higher team morale, and greater satisfaction for all project stakeholders.



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