The verb to lead is derived from the word laed, a term common to ancient Northern European languages such as Anglo-Saxon, Dutch and Swedish. It means a path, road, journey or course of a ship at sea. By implication a leader is one who guides those travelling the path.
Leadership has many definitions because it is exercised in so many different contexts. In simple terms in the context of P3 management, leadership is best defined by its goals, which are to:
- provide focus and promote commitment to objectives;
- inspire team members to successfully achieve the objectives.
Leadership theory revolves around the relationship between the leader and those who follow. The most basic managerial relationships were described by McGregor with his description of Theory X and Theory Y managers and these evolved into the idea of transactional and transformational leaders.
A transactional leader ensures that requirements are agreed and that the rewards and penalties for achievement, or lack of it, are understood. It is an exchange process to do with setting objectives, communicating plans and explaining what team members or suppliers will receive in return for their effort. This approach primarily addresses the first goal of leadership and is reflected in many areas of P3 management, such as requirements management, the definition process and contract management.
A transformational leader is one who does everything possible to help people succeed in their own right and become leaders themselves. They help those people to transform themselves and achieve more than was intended. This approach primarily addresses the second goal and is reflected in the many leadership models that link the style of the leader to the development of the team being led.
The P3 environment is, by definition, temporary. Teams come together to achieve objectives and are disbanded once the work is complete. Models of teamwork describe how teams go through certain development stages and many leadership models such as Hersey and Blanchard, and Blake and Mouton, show how the leader’s style must adapt in parallel with the progression of the team. This is often referred to as situational leadership.
Of course, teams are made up of individuals and different individuals are motivated by different things. The basic principles of motivation are explained in models such as Maslow and Hertzberg and the P3 manager needs to understand both the individuals in the team and their collective development.
Another variable that is unique to the P3 context is the life cycle. Different types of team may be required at different phases of the life cycle and teams that span different phases may react differently to them. A key skill of any leader is conflict management and the nature of conflict is also affected by the progression of the work through the different life cycle phases.
These aspects of what a leader needs to address were brought together in Adair’s model of action centred leadership, which looks at how the different components of task (objectives), team and individual need to be balanced.
Ultimately, the position of leader is ‘granted’ by followers who make the decision to follow. That decision will be influenced by the leader using an appropriate style of leadership that takes account of both the situation and the readiness of people to follow.
A team member’s readiness to follow a leader will depend to a degree on their perception of the leaders ‘power’. This not as purely transactional as it sounds and as described by Montana and Charnov, is equally applicable to transformational styles of leadership.
Every individual has their own preferred style of leadership. This is the style they will instinctively exhibit in most situations. It will lie somewhere between McGregor’s extremes of Theory X and Theory Y. By far the hardest part of leadership for a P3 manager is having to exhibit different styles of leadership for different teams at different phases of the life cycle, most of which will not be their preferred style.
Projects, programmes and portfolios
The relationship between a leader and their team takes time to develop, so small projects with a small team are a difficult situation for the prospective leader. The project manager of a small, non-complex project has to develop a relationship with the team very quickly. This situation is often compounded by the fact that, in such situations, the project exists in a matrix organisation where the team members have other departmental managers.
These departmental managers have the default ‘legitimate power’ and most of the ‘reward power’ described by Montana and Charnov. The project manager must therefore seek to develop their own legitimate power alongside ‘expert power’ and possibly ‘referent power’. This latter authority to lead comes from having a strong sponsor who is visibly committed to the objectives.
The value of willing followers should not be underestimated, particularly in the context of small projects. The host organisation’s capability maturity can be significant for these small-project environments because in a mature organisation the team members are more familiar with the project management context and have higher levels of what Hersey and Blanchard call ‘follower readiness’.
As projects become more complex there will be more time to develop the leader-follower relationship. Teams have time to develop according to the various teamwork models and the P3 manager has the opportunity to apply the principles of situational leadership.
While leaders require followers, they must also themselves be able to follow. Many projects will be part of a programme or portfolio that also has its leader. A project manager will need to be a strong leader but must also be able to be an effective team member in respect of the programme or portfolio.
On programmes, portfolios and larger projects the primary leadership issue becomes one of scale rather than time. The P3 manager may be more detached from some individuals or entire teams. While some of the more managerial aspects of leadership will be delegated, there will still need to provide high level visionary leadership for the project, programme or portfolio as a whole. This is an aspect of leadership that the P3 manager shares with their sponsor and a visibly effective partnership will greatly increase the chances of success.
The nature of a programme also influences leadership style. In the programme setting:
- the objectives are more visionary and fluid than in the project setting;
- many of the people who need to be led are themselves leaders;
- change management affects a wide range of stakeholders.
A vision is more difficult to communicate than a set of product specifications. A programme manager is less likely to gain credibility and authority through expert power than through visionary leadership (charisma power) that is visible to all programme and project team members.
A programme manager needs to develop strong leadership skills to establish credibility with a team of project managers and business change managers who are leaders in their own right. This is especially true where actions that best serve the programme are in conflict with what a project manager believes are in the best interests of the project or a business change manager believes are not in the best interests of business-as-usual.
Leadership of a structured portfolio is the most visionary in nature as the single purpose of the portfolio is to deliver the host organisation’s strategy. Clearly, referent power is important here and developing follower commitment to the vision of the portfolio is almost synonymous with commitment to corporate vision and strategy. This kind of connection is typical in a mature organisation.