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The Importance of Executive Leadership in Successful Projects – Part I

Today’s guest blogger is Don Pagel, Vice President, Public Sector Services at Kronos.  As the former Deputy Director in the Office of the Mayor for the City of Houston, Don has a lot of experience with project management particularly around large technology deployments like ERP’s.  In this two-part series, Don will share his wisdom and insight on Executive Leaders and their role in successful projects.  Projects live and die by the success of both project management and organizational change management.   The more complex the project is; the more people it touches; the more change it creates in the daily activities of those people, the more critical it is to plan, execute, control and lead. My father once taught me that you “manage” things, but you “lead” people. I raised three boys and thus spent a great deal of time in Boy Scouts. At one particular troop meeting, a patrol was on stage performing a silly skit to keep the scouts entertained. As the skit is progressing, an assistant scoutmaster keeps walking across the stage in front of the skit dragging a rope. Finally, after the third time, the other assistant scoutmaster helping the boys with their skit, turned and loudly called to the other, “Fred, why on earth do you keep dragging that rope around?”. Fred responds, “Have you ever tried to push a rope?” The implication of that simple statement was astounding to me. Project management is all about managing cost, time and scope….things. Organizational change management is about leading people through the change caused by the implementation of the project. Leadership requires knowledge, trust, influence, faith and vision. People do not like to be pushed and generally respond like the assistant scoutmaster’s rope. But given the right leader who has vision, people will follow willingly. Leadership does not require position or title just as position and title do not guarantee followers. The most important leader in a project is the executive sponsor. This is the person who both sees the value of the project and has the fiscal responsibility for its charter as well as its success. That said, every team member has the responsibility to help lead through the change that a project creates and help support the executive sponsor.

Knowledge

Knowledge requires effort and involvement. It is not necessary that the executive sponsor understand the details of the product being implemented but should invest the time and effort into understanding the product well enough to ask appropriate questions to make effective decisions. Additionally, the proper level of understanding can lead to trust in the product that allows the development of a vision. Lack of knowledge, or lack of involvement will lead to poorly executed projects.

Trust

Leadership requires trust. Trust in the product and more importantly, trust in the team you have assembled to implement the product. The team needs to feel that trust as well. Mistakes will be made and you want your team to stretch and be personally empowered, so they need to feel that “you’ve got their back”. Trust in both the product and team also enables the executive sponsor to exude faith and vision to external stakeholders. Lack of trust will cause fear, uncertainty and project stagnation because no one will feel comfortable to make a decision. In Part II, Don will explore other important leadership traits such as influence, faith, and vision…

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