Podcast Transcript: APM PPQ Provide visionary leadership for a project.

Tom O'Shea

“Hello. Welcome to another Parallel Project Training Podcast. I’m Paul Naybour, and with me is Tom O’Shea. We’re working through the APM PPQ qualifications, and we’ve got to the interesting topic of leadership for a project.”

“Yes, I think it’s quite good that the APM has included leadership in this part of the course, don’t you?”

“Absolutely, yeah. It’s the first learning outcome that appears in the syllabus. So, it highlights the importance of leadership in a project, whether that’s by the project manager or anyone else.”

Tom O'Shea on the importance of Leadership in a project
Tom O’Shea

“I was talking to someone yesterday who was a PRINCE2 trainer, and they were saying there’s no leadership in PRINCE2 qualifications, for instance. So, I think recognition of the importance of leadership is one of the strengths of the APM.”

“Yes, PRINCE2 is focused on method, whereas APM is focused on the wider aspects of delivering a project, whether that is the tools and techniques you need to deliver or the personal skill sets that you need as well.”

“So, we’ve got five learning outcomes here. I will take each one in turn. In this one, we’re going to look at visionary leadership in the project.”

“So, we’ve got three assessment criteria here. One is about ethical, flexible, collaborative leadership. The second is about ways to engage with a diverse group of people and form a team. And the third is about creating an environment that encourages high performance and sustains high performance.”

“Let’s look at the first one. So, I’ll read out: ‘Critically evaluate ethical, flexible, inspirational, and collaborative approaches to leadership of others in evolving situations.’ There’s quite a lot in this one, isn’t there?”

“Yes, there is. Although it’s primarily about the style and approach or behaviour that a leader adopts, it’s looking to cover a number of different things about being ethical, flexible, inspiring, and collaborating.”

“So, it’s looking to find out what the project manager thinks needs to happen in terms of leadership in order for a team to be motivated, bought into, and aligned with where the project is going. I think the interesting thing with this one is that leadership doesn’t just have to happen at the project manager level.”

“So, we could be thinking about leadership at any level in the project, including the sponsor and the steering group or project board.”

“Without forgetting the work package managers as well. For example, in this case study, I don’t think the people who are leading the individual work packages are particularly leading them; they’re abdicating their responsibilities.”

“Yes, certainly, that could be an element of that. So, what evidence do you see of there being any kind of leadership taking place in the organisation? Not saying it doesn’t mean it isn’t happening, but if you can see no evidence of it, then you have to investigate further and try to understand what the leadership capabilities might be of the line managers who may also be work package managers in the project.”

“So, the project manager can think about how leadership is cascading down through the team, but also think about leadership at a higher level. So, is the sponsor showing effective leadership? Is there any evidence that the sponsor so far has engaged effectively with the project team? And what is the sponsor doing to get buy-in from other stakeholders around the project? So, is the senior management team all bought into it? Are they all aligned and inspired and motivated to deliver the project as well?”

“Let’s just drill into that ethical behaviour. What we mean by ethical behaviors is ethics in its widest sense in terms of the behavior of a project manager or others in the project needing to be clearly demonstrating. So, it’s about openness and honesty, above all, it’s about integrity.”

“It’s about ensuring that everyone has a good, clear understanding of what the project is about and what’s going on so that there’s no hiding bad news. There is not doing anything that gives a false impression of what’s happening or what a project is aiming to achieve.”

“And then, flexible leadership is an interesting concept that is about being able to apply different styles of leadership according to the person or team that you’re working with. So, the leadership style that you apply if you’re a project manager with the team might be different to the one that you apply with the sponsor or other senior stakeholders.”

“The style you adopt as a project manager might change according to the different situations that you’re in. So, if you’re in a high-pressure situation, you need to be much more directive. Whereas if you’ve got a team that is quite capable and has developed a good level of competence and ability, you might look to empower the team more and give them some responsibility and let them make their own decisions.”

“An inspirational and inspiring leader, yes. We need to have somebody who is going to encourage and motivate the team and the individuals to

want to work towards achieving the goal that the project is aiming to achieve.”

“So, we need somebody who’s able to get the team bought into what’s going on and confident in what’s happening and where it’s going. Confident in the leadership as well, at all levels.”

“So, who would you look for? How solid is the vision coming out of the leadership team for the project? And maybe that’s an area that I need to work on.”

“Absolutely, yeah. So, there are a number of different models of the way that visions and what happens at the ground level cascade. So, I remember many years ago there was the MOST model, the mission, objectives, the strategy, and the tactics. And that’s about ensuring that everything is aligned from top to bottom, that there is a clear vision or goal or mission that the project is aiming to achieve, that you have some clear, tangible objectives that set a target for what we will have achieved by the time we finish the project.”

“We’ve got a strategy or the plan so we can see how we’re going to go about doing this. And then the tactics are the operational work that the team needs to be focused on and doing to be able to ensure that it all gets delivered.”

“Yeah. And the collaboration aspect is linked to flexibility, isn’t it? Because collaborative working is about finding solutions that are right for everybody rather than just coming with your own ideas.”

“Yes, it is. Yeah. It’s about working with everyone. And it’s also about the leader showing that they want to take part in and support the team in achieving the goals. So, it isn’t just simply about issuing instruction and direction. It’s about being there to be actively engaged in supporting the project.”

“It’s one of the key things that a sponsor needs to do. So, a sponsor isn’t just a figurehead. You would want the sponsor to be actively engaged in supporting the team. And so, whether the team needs things from outside of the project that might be coming from other areas or need other departments bought in, and that means engaging senior stakeholders. Then the sponsor should be taking on their share of the work as well and ensuring that they are being seen to demonstrate support to the team and providing that support to them in the actions that they take.”

“Good. So, as we move on to the next one, so it’s to critically evaluate, critically analyse—apologies—ways in which to engage with a diverse range of individuals and teams to agree on the objectives which are aligned with the project’s strategic goals. This is quite a mouthful.”

“So, critically analyses it as an analyst. So, breaking it down and identifying the pros and cons of different approaches here, we’re not making a recommendation.”

“Yes, that’s right. To engage in two ways, or we’re looking at the different ways in which you can work with the team and the individuals in it to be able to get them not just bought into the vision, which is what the first part is about, the previous assessment criterion. But in this case, so that there are specific tasks and goals and activities that are aligned with what the projects are aiming to achieve.”

“But just thinking about that MOST model, it’s about ensuring that the tactics that the team have to apply or carry out are aligned with the plan, which is set out by the project manager that is focused on delivering those objectives.”

“Okay. So, this is more tactical and strategic. It’s more about making sure you’ve got clear definitions linked back to that objective we talked about about having clearly defined roles and responsibilities within the work packages so that people understand what they’re doing and how they contribute to the big picture, and they accept those responsibilities.”

“Yes, I worked with one. The previous criterion was about styles and behaviors of leadership. This one is about the more practical things that you can do to be able to get a team aligned and bought into what’s going on.”

“So, we could do things like, if you talk about roles and responsibilities that you mentioned a moment ago, a RACI chart is a clear way of getting the team aligned to the goals and objectives of the project. And so, if we’ve got a RACI chart that sets out who’s doing what in terms of their accountability and responsibility, that then is showing how the goals of the project or the objectives of the project are devolved down through a series of work packages to the tasks that the individual team members can carry out.”

“So, RACI is one tool that you can use here to ensure that the team is aligned with what the project’s aiming to achieve.”

“And what about PRINCE2? They have a concept of a work package description, don’t they? A sort of briefing pack or statement of work. I think the PMI call it. So, it’s like a description of the individual objectives and demonstrates alignment of those to the overall project objectives. Would that be another way of doing it?”

“It could be another way, yeah

. So, as a PM, you can write out a series of work package descriptions, work orders, method statements, whatever terminology you use in your environment. So, that sets out specifically what has to happen. And then the project manager could just simply issue those out among the team and that way give them the direction or the instruction of what needs to be achieved.”

“If we talk about analyses, the advantages of that are clear in that you have a statement that sets out precisely what’s needed, but it’s not very motivational or inspiring to do it that way.”

“I mean, if you’ve got a team that is well developed and they’re bought into what they do, it might be sufficient just simply to issue instructions like that. But if you’ve got a team that might be in the earliest stages or perhaps not quite so clear on what it’s about, it may be that the project manager should be looking to have some kind of meeting, a kick-off meeting with the team.”

“To clarify, as a reminder, this is what the goals are about. This is what we’re aiming to achieve. Now let’s think about how we can turn that into a set of activities and tasks that would enable us to deliver this project.”

“Yeah, I’m thinking of maybe when you’ve got a contractor involved, that’s where I’m coming from. Maybe where you want to clearly define what that contractor is doing through that documentation, which is probably more appropriate, isn’t it, as well. The strength of writing it all down aspect.”

“Yeah. So, in that situation, you do need clarity around the specifics of what needs to happen. If you’ve got a well-developed team and a team that is properly cohesive and established, if you’ve got the performing stage in the Tuckman model, then it may well be that all you need to do is issue out the goal or the outcome that you want them to achieve. Maybe not in so much detail as you might have in a work package document, but something that clearly defines the outcome or goal. And you can issue it to the team or the team members, and then they have that confidence and capability to get on and deliver it.”

“And so, 1.3 critically evaluate environments which encourage and sustain empowered and high-performance teams, these are the words environments is interesting, isn’t it?”

“Yes. So, what can you do as the project manager to ensure the team is set up and able to perform and engage in such a way that will maximise the outputs and create the best environment for their performance?”

“So, is that best done by having everyone together in some sort of co-located in one place so that we can share information, we can talk to each other, we can hear the things that are going on. Is the team used to working in a virtual way? So, are they diverse? Is the nature of the team and the organisation mean that people are split across different geographical locations and therefore we need to work together collaboratively in a virtual environment?”

“So, what can you do to ensure that there’s high performance that way? Perhaps, you know, you follow the iterative or agile approach of having a quick daily meeting and say, ‘What’s going on?'”

“Yeah, it might be that, you know, if we’ve several different workstreams happening that we need the teams to be at the place where that work is going on. So, if we’ve got two or three sites or two or three different functions that are all doing different work, then maybe the teams need to be shared out among those different places.”

“So, you see the environment being the working environment, the physical environment, or the culture in which the team delivers.”

“Yes. Yeah. It’s interesting that the body of knowledge reference has got virtual teams for the first two, but not the last one.”

“Yes, that’s right. So, some might confuse people, couldn’t it?”

“You know it could. Yeah. But if you think about the three criteria, the first one is about the styles and behaviours of the leader. The second one is about the practical tools that you can employ. And the third one is about making sure they’re working in the right kind of environment and structure and the workplace itself, you know, kind of ties in with things like Maslow and Hertzberg where, you know, if you think about Maslow, you know, the working environment is at the bottom of the pyramid.”

“So, you need to make sure that, you know, the environmental factors are all present and correct. And in this case, it’s not just having a nice, warm office, if that’s, you know, the desk-based people, but it’s also about other wider aspects of the environment. Like I said, in terms of either being co-located, distributed, virtual, or whatever.”

“Yeah, yeah. We had a totally virtual team. It’s one of the things we challenge with is how you create an environment that encourages and sustains performance when people live scattered all over

the country, you know?”

“Yeah. Tom, that’s really good. Thank you very much. Thank you.”

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