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PM Essence

Leadership Challenges Create a Strong Project Manager

- D. John Peter, PMP, Mindtree

World has seen successful project managers like Sreedharan of Metro Rail projects. What makes them successful? Successful management and excellent leadership.

Project Manager is successful only when he/she has the required levels of leadership skills and experience. But how can we spot a successful project manager from the rest? By looking at the scars on his back; by learning the leadership challenges he has gone through. By nature, leadership challenges are unique, different and special.

So this article presents 6 rules related to Leadership Challenges in Project Management and how they help Project Manager(s) to become a STRONG Project Manager cum excellent Leader.

Rule 1 - Avoid overconfidence and underestimation

How often have you heard the statement “I have followed process and procedures but still things gone out of control, not sure why (this overrun has happened) ?”

The simple answers are over confidence of ignoring project constraints and underestimating project limitations and dependencies.

How to overcome this syndrome? Always ask the question like, what is unique, special and different here? These questions will ensure project manager is getting into details before taking decision instead of just going with their overconfidence or underestimate.

Rule 2 – Never hesitate to recognize mistakes and correct them

Most project managers refuse to accept mistakes. It is easy to put blame on somebody or environment for the failure of the project. Acknowledging a problem is the first step of solving it. So unless and until a project manager is knowing and solving the real issues, expected business revenue and career growth will not happen. Failure to recognize mistakes early would lead to more issues till the project becomes unrecoverable.

It is important for a project manager to see the mistakes and correct it quickly. If Project Manager allows mistakes to happen and hesitate to correct then issues will grow.

Rule 3 - No pain No gain

Going through pain and hardships are part of project managers journey. General tendency of project manager used to be looking for an ideal project or project with less dependencies and constraints because of unwillingness to take challenges. Whoever has taken challenges and gone through the painful process must have learnt the secrets of transforming challenges into opportunities.

When project manager accepts the challenges then it opens many opportunities for learning.

In December 1964, a cyclone washed away parts of Pamban Bridge that connected Rameswaram to mainland Tamil Nadu. The Railways set a target of six months for the bridge to be repaired while Sreedharan's boss, under whose jurisdiction the bridge came, reduced it to three months. Sreedharan was put in-charge of the execution and he restored the bridge in just 46 days. The Railway minister's award was given to him in recognition of this achievement.

Rule 4 - Identify a Master or Guru

Guidance is essential right from the childhood. Project managers too need a master to get trained in the area of project management. Only difference here is, Project manager has to identify a Master or Guru. The advantage of having a Guru is that it keeps the mind of project manager open to criticism and advice. Gurus make project managers feel that they have something more to learn.

For example, Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam found his Guru in Dr. Vikram Sarabhai. He acknowledges that he learnt a lot from Dr. Vikram Sarabhai. He quotes the example that when his first project failed, Dr. Vikram Sarabhai took all responsibility and faced all the questions from the press. The next project of Dr. Kalam was a great success. This time Dr. Vikram Sarabhai told Dr. Kalam to meet the press and share the
success story.

Whenever project manager stuck-up in career or business growth then he/she will have someone to look up and seek their guidance.

Rule 5 - Do not expect instant results

Technologies are getting developed in such a speed that stakeholders, customer and team members are expecting instant results. Project Manager has to meet the expectation of achieving the speed but they do not expect instant results. Never compromise basics and never try unknown shortcuts in the interest of achieving instant results. Most of the times such steps land in unrecoverable situations. Take
steps that produce long lasting results.

Rule 6 - Have Patience and Humility

Another important aspect of STRONG project manager is maintaining calm during project pressure and humility at the time of achieving project success. Project managers possessing calm and composure can manage complex and pressure situation without any tension. Impatient people could not manage the situation in turn they lose control and unable to achieve success even though they may be capable and talented.

A shining example is the role played by Indian cricket captain M. S. Dhoni who made the Indian team to take on and succeed tough challenges. This is because of his ability to handle live-wire situations with a calmness and because of his willingness to accept the match outcome with equanimity.

So project managers should learn the art of showing patience and demonstrate humility.


The takeaways from this paper are:

1. Leadership skills differentiate a great project manager from the rest
2. One easy way to develop skills is to accept challenging roles
3. Remember the 6 rules that can guide you through the project management career.