Communication Playground

Why authentic leadership is right for project management

It’s been a long time since my last blog post. As a dedicated bookworm my current reading inspired me to write again. Keith Ferrazzis book “Never eat alone” is truly inspiring in total but one section caught especially my attention “Charm is simply a matter of being yourself. Your uniqueness is your power.” For me this relates very much to the authentic leadership approach.

The core message of authentic leadership is that you as a leader should not play a role but be truly yourself. This doesn’t mean you can do whatever like or that you can yell at your team. Bill George describes the authentic leadership behavior very well: “Authentic leaders monitor their words and behaviors carefully to be attuned to their audiences and to enroll their colleagues and teammates. They do so because they are sensitive to the impact their words and actions have on others, not because they are “messaging” the right talking points.” [Link to article].

So, is anyone who behaves as he or she is an authentic leader? Definitely not. Being an authentic leader takes time and hard work. The key to become an authentic leader is to learn self-awareness and to gather feedback from the people around you and work from where you are. Furthermore, as an authentic leader you should know your mission and goals you are working towards and be able to share them. Not all people are the same; one of the key skills of an authentic leader is to deliver your message according to your audience but still to be you – to be authentic.

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What’s now the relation between project management and authentic leadership?

Leadership in project management in total is still an underestimated area which should definitely get more attention. There are a lot of different leadership styles – situational, transformational, transactional, servant, etc. But in my opinion authentic leadership is the decision of choice for project managers. Decision of choice because I wouldn’t really call it a style but rather a decision which type of leader you choose to be.

My top three reasons why you as project manager should be an authentic leader:

You need to lead teams without formal power

Very often you as project manager are in the position to lead a team without formal power. Project teams usually get assigned resources which have a different line manager and just temporarily report to the project manager. Furthermore the setup of project teams is likely to change meaning: it’s very rare that the same people work together on more than one or two projects. On top many teams nowadays are virtual. It’s not an easy job to build a project team which is really acting as a team in todays fast paced environment. Being an authentic leader enables you to connect quicker and better with your team. You need to be transparent and authentic to build a trustful relationship.

You need to deal with many, very different stakeholders

As project manager you need to deal with many, very different stakeholders – your team which can contain very different people, your customer project team, the project sponsor, the sales team, the line managers of your project resources, the steering group, product management, R&D team, etc. If you are acting not authentic but always different it will give you a hard time when dealing with all these different groups to deliver your message.

Authentic leadership helps you to reduce stress

Project management is a rewarding but at the same time very demanding domain. The stress will come naturally during the project when you are facing challenges and constantly need to solve new problems. If you need to act according a role you have chosen to take on the stress will double. Eventhough being an authentic leader is hard work it’s still easier if you can be yourself and not try to play a role.

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