In many organisations, leading a project team without an official hierarchical leadership function is seen as a training ground for future first-time leaders. These 5 tips will help you make the most of this opportunity.
Before starting, as always, begin with self-reflection. Think for yourself: “What does the role mean to me, how do I want to fill the project leader role with life?” and “What values do I want to live by in my interaction with the project team?”. It is helpful to clarify the exact responsibilities of the role in advance with your own manager and also with the sponsors of the project.
Many tips for introducing yourself as a first-time leader can also be used when introducing yourself as a project leader. It is important to get off to a good start so that you as project leader are accepted by the team in your role from the beginning and the project team trusts you. It is also important to have the backing of the project’s sponsors. They can officially introduce you to the project team and thereby confirm your mandate. In your own introduction to the project team, it is useful to share something about your career so far, as well as your goals for the project and how you envisage working with the team.
The next step is to analyze the project and especially the stakeholders or interface partners. Creating a stakeholder map of the different actors and their expectations can be very useful. You can either draw this up alone in advance and/or together with the project team.
Subsequent questions for the first direct discussions with stakeholders in the project team’s environment such as the hierarchical leaders of your project team members can be:
Often a so-called RACI matrix brings clarity to the various stakeholders. Together you can determine who is ultimately responsible, who carries out what, who needs to be consulted, and who only needs to be informed.
As a project manager, your tasks will largely consist of dividing up tasks, managing the project work in terms of content and time, bringing about decision-making processes, monitoring the project, etc.
It is beneficial to get a good overview of who does what in 1:1 get-to-know conversations with each team member. Content of these conversations can be these questions: who is responsible for what in the team, who has which strengths and who enjoys what, what motivates each person, how would the team members like to develop in terms of content, etc. These 1:1 meetings help to establish a personal connection with all project members!
Sometimes it is the case that employees work 100% of their working time in project teams, sometimes only for e.g. 20%. How can you ensure motivation, especially if the project team is not the highest priority for the team members from their perspective? This is where getting to know each other a little better at the beginning pays off.
By asking questions in the 1:1 meeting about the motivation of the staff members (e.g. “What motivates you to work in this project? What skills and knowledge do you hope to gain from the project work for your future positions? How do you see your own contribution to the bigger picture in the project?”) you will find out what drives your team members. You can address these issues when the situation becomes more difficult and you feel that a team member no longer takes the work in the project team so seriously.
A project leader role is a great way to gain your first leadership experience and also gain visibility for future disciplinary leadership positions in your organisation. May these tips support you in this next step in your career!
Would you like to feel even stronger supported in your first leadership role? Katrin also offers a new product to support first-time leaders even better: The First-Time Leaders Community. It includes a self-paced video training, regular workshops and exchange with peers, and optional individual coaching sessions. Learn more and join the waitlist already if this could benefit you or your colleagues & friends.
photo by Lucie Greiner