Most novice project managers aren’t handed this role as a result of their leadership skills. Especially in the manufacturing sector, responsibility for a team usually starts with strong technical knowledge and an ingrained awareness of the project’s scope. Those who are placed in the captain’s chair tend to be those with a deep understanding of the project’s ongoing story, a technical grasp of the issues involved, and some background regarding the strengths of each team member.
That’s fine, and this model is a.) nearly universal and b.) successful more often than not. Most decision makers recognize that when a team leader is needed, the best candidate isn’t necessarily the best “leader”. But there’s one glaring problem with this: the prevalence of project managers who are thrown into the deep end and forced to develop their coaching skills in vivo (and sometimes at high speed).
If this is happening to you, or it’s about to happen, here are some tips that can help you keep the project on track while you find your feet.
1. Start with a strong foundation. Step into your role on the first day by clearly defining your expectations and making sure all of your team members understand the scope, mission, and key goals of the project. Be clear with your team regarding your role, and make sure they know where to turn with concerns and questions.
2. Keep your goals and your leadership style situational. You’ll need to adjust your management approach as you deal with each individual on the team, each step of the project, and each crisis that may arise along the way. Rigidity is not your friend.
3. Start step 2 by identifying two metrics for each member of the team: Influence and interest. Those with high influence are those who hold the most experience, seniority, and personal respect. If your influencers are happy, the team will be happy. Those with high interest are those most invested in the outcome of this particular project. Younger, newer workers, ambitious climbers, and enthusiastic team players are often high in interest, though they may be low in influence. Often (but not always) those who rate high in influence will rate low in interest, and vice versa.
4. As you proceed with the project, using whatever leadership style works best for the moment (and for your own personality), keep your influencers satisfied, and keep your interested team members informed. Those who rate high in both areas will need the most attention and hands-on interaction.
For specific guidance as you step into your new role, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. The staffing and business management experts at CSS can keep you on track to success. Contact our office at any time to arrange a consultation.