jim@millikenproject.com

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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Winning without Power

The Emperor Nero ordered his Roman subjects to worship his horse as a god, basically as an idle demonstration of his power. He did it because he could, and there was no way to stop him. You could wind up dead if you didn’t comply.
That is authority without responsibility.
The modern project manager, on the other hand, often is the one who must meet quality standards within cost and time limits set by someone else – and do it through the work of people he/she doesn’t control. Amid plentiful risk and multiple complexities.
That is responsibility without authority.
The project manager swings in the breeze between those two poles. He/she is at the mercy of people who own all the marbles and can yank them back at any time. Simultaneously that project manager must somehow get tough stuff done predictably and consistently by “team members” who have no obligation to comply while they have lots of other things to do.
Too many project managers respond to this by working like dogs, scrambling in pursuit of busy people and filling in the gaps through their own efforts.
In the world of management, among the worst things you can do is to substitute personal labor for management direction. When you, the manager, pick up your shovel and go to the mine, you often are the best digger down there. While you’re demonstrating that, the actual designated diggers are leaning on their tools to watch admiringly, if they’re not off on some other dig.
As this sort of thing is going on, management is not happening. When you, the leader, become overbusy, a lot of really important stuff goes by the boards. Leadership very significantly depends upon observation and analysis, paying attention, understanding. It demands persuasion, the ability to convince people to do what they otherwise wouldn’t do.
You can’t determine what’s happening or convince anybody if you don’t have time to conduct adequate observation and effective communication. You anticipate/solve problems and build productive mutual relationships through attention to events and people, watching and listening, responding to variances, needs and ideas, showing people they can look to you for solutions, assistance, ideas and inspiration.
A workload overload robs the project manager of the time and mental/emotional balance required to do that sort of thing. And, truth be told, many project managers secretly long to have these folks get out the way so they can have at the work themselves.
In sum, the project situation is set up to leave the project manager all alone out there with the responsibility, facing at best a major set of challenges. At worst, the view is a solid wall of people’s backs. What to do?

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