Before we get any deeper into this, I want to make something painfully clear: There are leaders I would never ask to project manage a mission-critical initiative, and there are project managers I would never expect to be inspirational people leaders.
There are plenty of project managers who also aspire to be great people leaders. They can paint an inspiring vision and cultivate a high-performing organization to achieve results. They actively understand the goals of their organization’s followers while equipping them to achieve those goals. They excel as inspiring people leaders.
At the same time, I’ve worked with some outstanding project managers who can paint a very straight line between the current and future state, and effectively drive team execution to successful completion. They aren’t particularly charismatic or good at imagining a tomorrow, and they aren’t especially good people cultivators. They are simply good solid project managers.
And that’s completely OK.
All too often, leaders expect that others, particularly project managers, should aspire to be inspirational people leaders. It’s as if being “just a project manager” is somehow less important or doesn’t utilize them to their full potential. Putting (or even worse, shaming) a project manager who just wants to manage projects in an inspirational people leadership role is not only potentially damaging to delivering results, it also carries the potential to adversely impact careers. Not every inspirational people leader wants to be a project manager, and not every project manager wants to be an inspirational people leader.
Project managers and leaders share many of the same attributes, such as great communication skills, removing roadblocks, providing clarity, accepting accountability, sharing praise, and problem-solving. At the same time, I see three key areas where leaders and project managers have different but complementary skillsets, as follows:
Assigning an unequipped or unwilling project manager to a people leadership role can result in the following:
The Next Steps:
Are you a project manager who is contemplating or being asked to take on an inspirational people leadership role? Consider the following next steps:
Effective project managers are highly sought after and can be worth their weight in gold in driving on-time, on-budget, and within-scope delivery. If you just wanna be a PM like Adam, then don’t fall victim to thinking “you need to be a people leader.” You don’t. Just keep delivering great projects.
Want to see more about scaling up as a leader? Check out Six-Word Lessons on Scaling Up as a Leader.
Lonnie Pacelli | Building Thriving Leaders™ | See me on Amazon
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