Why Good Leaders Fail at Project Management

Good leaders possess a range of important skills. From effectively managing people to making solid strategic decisions, leadership requires experience and knowledge. But the baseline skills that many good leaders possess make up only a small part of the project management discipline. Unfortunately, senior staff may not have good awareness of the core competencies a PM needs to consistently drive projects to a successful completion. Without a well-crafted mentoring program in place or the support of an outside project management consulting firm to help develop and bolster any skills that are incomplete, they may move a very good leader into a project management role and later express surprise when they aren’t able to perform as expected.

Project Management

Knowing that good leaders bring so much value to the table, why do they often fail at project management?

Scope Management is a Challenge

Maintaining control over a project’s scope—particularly when the effort is large, complex, or when tasks will occur over a long duration of time—can be extraordinarily difficult. It requires good insight into the many downstream effects that scope creep could have and also a thorough understanding of the risks the project may encounter if its boundaries aren’t well managed. PMs need to be knowledgeable about all the tasks and objectives a project’s scope includes, while also recognizing what is outside the approved parameters. In addition, they must have the skills to accurately assess the impacts of broadening the scope and enough experience to estimate what would be required to successfully deliver an initiative that’s more expansive.

Difficulty Leading in a Matrix Environment

Leaders commonly have direct authority over the majority of people working in their group. This structure greatly simplifies concepts such as accountability, delegation, discipline, and engagement. But because PMs frequently must rely on people outside their reporting structure, the traditional leadership qualities need to be augmented to ensure a successful project outcome in a matrix environment. Skills such as securing stakeholder buy-in and building enthusiasm among a cross-functional team are essential.

Job Security Fears Hinder Communications

PMs must sometimes deliver bad news to the organization’s executive team. Unforeseen budget issues may require additional funding, for example, or quality testing may have revealed problems that need to be fixed before the project can proceed, resulting in unavoidable delays. Even leaders with good communication skills sometimes find themselves avoiding these conversations because they fear that upsetting the executive team could hurt their prospects for advancement. A PM’s career opportunities really will begin to diminish if communications aren’t robust and executives learn about issues at the last minute, when things are so far off track that any resolution is likely to be expensive and disruptive.

Risk Management Requires its Own Set of Skills

Depending on the size, maturity, and mission of the organization, it’s possible that some group or department leaders haven’t had much exposure to risk management. Without reliable experience identifying, assessing, measuring, and mitigating risks, a PM new to the project management field could miss important hazards.

For people who already have solid leadership skills, building these project management-specific competencies can be accomplished through time and targeted training. A mentoring relationship with a seasoned PM is one way to gain valuable knowledge about real-world situations and strategies to avoid trouble. These competencies can also be added to the project team through a partnership with an experienced project management consulting firm. Their experts will have valuable experience navigating the areas that commonly present good leaders with challenges, and they can also provide tools and techniques to help overcome the roadblocks that often stand in the way of project success.


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