“People can’t see the big picture until they are allowed to participate in the big picture.” Hugh McLeod.
I lead workshops on project management – scope control, scheduling, budgeting, risk assessment, team management. I deliver these sessions mostly to research trainees – the scientists and investigators of the future – and other research staff, as I believe that projects are more successful when everyone applies good management in their work.
At a recent workshop called “Getting Started in Project Management”, I was talking about the importance of having the project scope in a document so that everyone on the project could refer to it. I was asked, “who should have access to that?” My answer – everyone. The lab staff or computer programmers or field technicians will be the first ones to see that an approach is working or not working – why wouldn’t you want them to have as much information as possible about the whole project, so they can contribute to it?
This question comes up in almost every workshop, which tells me that many projects and work environments are not as open as they might be, and so are making it harder for the projects and staff to succeed. The project proposal (and charter, if you have one), the budget, the schedule – all of these should be available and accessible by project team members. They don’t have to read them – not everyone wants that type or level of engagement – but if they want to, then they should. Usually when I turn the question around to, “why wouldn’t you”, there is little response.
Of course there are pieces of information that are not for everyone – only certain people on a project need to know specific salary levels, for example. And project team members need training and guidance as to what information is confidential to the project or institution; confidential patient information, results that represent intellectual property, and contract terms with industry partners are examples of things that must be treated carefully, so as not to compromise the project outcomes and institution reputation.
In my own work as a leader and project manager, I strive for this openness everyday. I welcome and encourage questions and information sharing at all levels and throughout all projects. It’s not always possible – or advisable even – to give copies of all project documents to everyone; there does have to be control of these, as document proliferation and loss of version control is a sure fire way to create confusion rather than clarity. But when there is an opportunity to better enable project staff to contribute better by telling them the why in addition to the what, then I will try to take that. I’m also always open to talking with anyone on the project about what’s happening, and work hard to be as open and accessible to people as I can; this seems to work as I’m often engaged in discussion with people throughout the teams about understanding the hows and whys of various projects. Engaging staff in this way takes time and energy, and the engagement must be genuine or it will fail, but the efforts are well worth it to contribute to a successful project and team.
Perhaps leaders don’t see the value in spending their time and energy in this way, but I think the consequence is that they end up spending it elsewhere on less positive things, such as conflict resolution, risk management, and staff recruitment and retention. Personally, I’d rather prevent a mess in the first place than spend time cleaning it up.
Information management is part of controlling and monitoring in a project. But controlling doesn’t have to mean limiting or restricting, and so allowing all project staff to access and be knowledgable about project information and how the project is managed can enhance a project’s likelihood of success. As Hugh McLeod says: “All companies begin and end with the collective knowledge of their people. It’s up to management to figure out a way to put that knowledge to best use.”
For more from Hugh McLeod, visit his fantastic website at GapingVoid.com. See more from me about Hugh McLeod at my earlier blog post.
This is a topic I get asked about often: how to lead when you’re not the leader. It always surprises me a bit, as I think that many of the skills and tools for good leadership are also required for good collaboration, good customer service – just good work. Everyone in a team, project, or work environment can contribute to success, and leading themselves and others is how that happens.
Everyone is leading someone else, not all the time, but regularly and often without knowing it. In any work where you’re interacting with others – a team, project, customers, or just your mates in your physical office space – your actions and behaviour send messages to others with cues about what you’re working on, what’s important to you, what you need and what you can (and can’t) do. In this way, those around you are led, or at least influenced, by you. Almost always within a group, there’s someone who is learning, and they may look to you – directly or indirectly – for leadership.
A recent article in INC Magazine includes some standard management skills – communicate clearly, be flexible, listen to and help others – as well as some that are essential for overall success. These four are ones that I’d put in the category of maturity and integrity, rather than skills per se. But they are important to mention as essential for survival and sanity in any working environment.
“Don’t be a doormat.” This can be tricky for those who’ve established work patterns – and by extension, reputations – for never saying no when asked to do something. But there is a tipping point between being eager and willing to do more and being taken for granted. Be polite but clear about boundaries and your capacity. When asked to take on work, consider whether there isn’t another more appropriate path and redirect folks to that. This is something that I’ve worked on, and have found effective in enabling people to get what they need without that coming from me. I abhor the phrase, “that’s not my job”, but often times, it isn’t. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t know whose job it is, and so I can facilitate someone getting closer to their answer or need by pointing them there.
This does not mean becoming “Teflon” – the person to whom no responsibility sticks. If you don’t have any responsibilities, then you don’t share in any responsibilities for success. And don’t be the “on with dirty shoes” – the person who’s always looking for someone to do their work, especially at the last minute. Yes, in a collaborative environment, we help each other out and pick up tasks when we can. But when people start ducking your calls because you’ve off-loaded one too many tasks on them, you’ve wiped your feet on their doormat once too often. Don’t be a doormat, but don’t treat anyone like one either.
“Take responsibility for your mistakes.” You screwed up. It is hard, but admit it and fix it. It happens to everyone (yes, everyone). The worst things you can do are a) try to hide it or b) point the blame elsewhere. Don’t be so cocky as to think you can cover it up – you can’t, and even if you can, it doesn’t go away and the effort to keep it covered will eventually be discovered. In the long run, it is much easier to clean it up than cover it up. Don’t throw your colleagues under the bus. If someone on the team made a mistake, then it’s the team’s mistake. But you demonstrate leadership and integrity when you put your hand up admit your mistakes.
And if you find yourself wanting to say, “but I didn’t know that”, first stop and ask yourself if you SHOULD have known – if the answer is even maybe, then bite your tongue and take responsibility like a leader.
Every leader has made mistakes. The good ones admit it, and are not afraid to say so and to change.
“Develop a thick skin.” Not everyone that you work with is going to be nice to you. Some people are just not nice. Sometime people have stuff going on in their lives that affects they way they work and interact. It’s not personal – it’s them, not you. Consider whether that slight you felt – when someone missed an important deadline of yours, or didn’t invite you to lunch, or used the last of the coffee AGAIN – is a personal attack or just something that happens. Regardless, in most cases, learn to let it go. You don’t have take ongoing teasing or insults (you don’t have to accept a toxic work environment), and everyone should behave respectfully and expect to be treated that way. Life is long, you have a long work life ahead of you, don’t sweat the small stuff. Leaders absorb a lot of small stuff all the time.
“Don’t ask for special treatment.” Stuff happens. That perfect storm of multiple deadlines, colleagues off sick, it’s your sister’s birthday and your car was towed. Special circumstances can certainly justify some exceptions. But exceptions should be just that – exceptional. Consider whether what’s happening is more or different that what you’ve dealt with before, or what others have dealt with. Perhaps it’s just life – karma is, well, you know. Or perhaps these trying times are an opportunity to demonstrate strength in the face of adversity. Maybe it’s time to try out those delegation and persuasion skills.
That’s not to say that you shouldn’t ask for consideration for promotion, new opportunities, or accommodation when needed. Just remember to that request for these should be justified, and any accommodation respected and appreciated. The worst thing you can do for your career is abuse a privilege like flexible working hours or a training opportunity. When you ask for and get something special, treat it that way.
The tips listed in the article are certainly part of good leadership, and should be part of the tool kit for anyone aspiring to a leadership role. Promotion and advancement require that you demonstrate more than just the desire and potential for leadership – actually demonstrating leadership in any position you’re in will show that you’ve got the right stuff. Even if you’re not interested in promotion, these skills will enable your work to be productive, collaborative and rewarding.
Who is Robyn?
My career as a research project manager is rewarding, dynamic, challenging, and fun. I'm looking forward to sharing my knowledge and experience in communication, organization, and common sense approaches in research management and leadership, and to enabling others to learn and grow in this exciting career.