The PM Podcast


Project Management for Beginners and Experts

Episode 361: How to Become a Project Leader (Free)

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This episode is sponsored by the PMP Exam Simulator:
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Niraj Kumar
Niraj Kumar, PMP

Leadership in project management is an important topic these days. And if you are like most project managers then you may have fallen into project management a bit by accident. And then, after you have successfully delivered a few projects, suddenly everyone tells you that you must improve your project management leadership skills.

Effective project management, they say, depends a lot on your project leadership.

And so once you realise that you have to transform into a project leader then leadership training will be part of your ongoing professional development, which is where our guest can help.

Niraj Kumar (www.leadproje.com -- http://www.linkedin.com/in/thenirajkumar) is a leadership expert and proponent of self-growth through continuous learning. Together we explore his view on leadership, how these skill help you as a project manager, how they help you when dealing with senior executives, and as always we include a lot of tips on how you yourself can improve how you approach project management and leadership starting today.

Leadership Checklist

As part of this interview Niraj offers a free leadership checklist to all our listeners. Please click here to sign up and download your checklist...

Below are the first few pages of the transcript. The complete transcript is available to Premium subscribers only.

Podcast Introduction

Cornelius Fichtner: Hello and welcome to Episode #361. This is The Project Management Podcast™ at www.pm-podcast.com and I am Cornelius Fichtner. Thank you for stopping by.

Please remember that we are a listener-supported Podcast. So if you enjoy our interviews then please visit www.pm-podcast.com/premium. Your subscription will help keep us going.

Leadership in project management is an important topic these days and if you are like me then you may have fallen into project management a bit by accident. And then after you have successfully delivered a few projects, suddenly everyone tells you that you must improve your project management leadership skills. Effective project management they say depends a lot on your project leadership.

Are you PMP certified and want to earn 37 PDUs quickly and for less than 5 dollars an hour? That's no problem with The Agile PrepCast™. It not only prepares you for your PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP)® Exam but also qualifies for a ton of Project Management Professional (PMP) ® PDUs. Visit www.agileprepcast.com/pdu for the details.

And so, once you realized that you have to transform into a project leader then leadership training will be part of your ongoing professional development which is where our guest can help.

Niraj Kumar is a leadership expert and proponent of self-growth through continuous learning. Together, we explore his view on leadership, how these skills help you as a project manager, how they help you when dealing with senior executives and as always, we include a lot of tips on how you yourself can improve how you approach project management and leadership starting today.

But first, enjoy the interview.

Podcast Interview

Female Voice: The Project Management Podcast's feature interview:

Cornelius Fichtner: Today with Niraj Kumar who blogs about leadership and leads a team of managers and engineers at his day job.

Hello, Niraj and welcome to The Project Management Podcast™!

Niraj Kumar: Thank you, Cornelius! Excited to be back! Always enjoy talking with you.

Cornelius Fichtner: When I read books and blogs and attend courses, listen to my friends, everybody is talking about things that denote leadership. The concept is leadership is almost confusing. How do you define leadership?

Niraj Kumar: I agree with you. The leadership concept of leadership can be very, very confusing. I would say for project managers, it can be even more confusing because sometimes leadership means people on the operational floor who have direct reports and they are the leaders and that's where it stops in professional world.

Sometimes leadership can be characterized as going to an exclusive club or going to an institution and organization. Sometimes I've seen people in non-profit world think they are leaders because they are softer and they are helping somebody and they think that people in for-profit world are not leaders.

So I have been confused myself. I have been studying leadership for a long time and I have been fascinated by the different opinion of leadership. The discipline of leadership is complex. It's wide but it's also a lot of fun and it's also of a very high importance to a project manager because as a project manager, your technical skills take you far but they don’t take you far enough. When the project starts getting more and more complex, the leadership skills become more and more important.

And you asked about leadership, I would define leadership at a very umbrella level. I have seen a lot of definitions of leadership and I have tried to apply them. I learn something. I apply them at my work and see what works, what doesn’t and if something doesn’t work, I feel like: Okay, I need to throw it out. Go look for something that I can help my clients with, my team members with.

So the biggest umbrella definition that I remember is that leadership is influencing your fellow human beings. That's the broadest definition and it's too broad to apply.

Cornelius Fichtner: Yes, I was just going to say, that doesn’t really help me on a project. How, why do you define it this way? Where does it take us?

Niraj Kumar: I define in a broader umbrella sense because that's like a perfection that I don’t know if we'll reach. But if you'll start putting that in a project, let's think about it as a project manager would.

Leadership is influence. Let's think of that definition at a program level. But if we bring it down to a project level then I think leadership is behavior and impact from your behavior and that means the impact from leadership is coming into the picture when you are working on a project, when you are managing a project in the impact you make on any other human beings through your behavior.

So behavior is where the magic happens. That means if you need to learn leadership skills, if our listeners need to grow in the leadership arena in the thirds of PMI Talent Triangle™ that Project Management Institute (PMI)® proposes. I think you will just have to think about 'what do I do that will impact my behavior when I am working with a human being?' So that's how I think about leadership.

Cornelius Fichtner: Okay.

Niraj Kumar: Once you think like that then you start thinking about actions and you will start thinking about thoughts then you start monitoring them and changing them.

Cornelius Fichtner: So are you saying…that's your definition of leadership. Would you then recommend that our listeners find their own personal definition of leadership and apply it and what will it help them do?

Niraj Kumar: I would say, yes, short answer and the long answer is yes because if you don’t know how you are going to apply something, how it's going to help you grow then you can truly work with it. There are definitions of leaders, leadership that are so broad that you can't put them in the context of project manager's day-to-day work life.

In fact, I wrote a blog post writing a review of a book that came out, I believe it came out last year or a year before that. It was written by Susanne Madsen and she writes about project leadership. She puts leadership in the context of a project manager's day-to-day life because that's what we are going to do here. I think as a project manager or manager if you're listening to this podcast, I think you should think about what leadership means to you with a boundary condition that it's about influencing other human being. And with that boundary condition, what can you do that will help you influence someone else. Can you learn how to speak more politely? Will that influence other human beings? Well that's your definition. That's one thing to look for.

I think they need their own definition also because leadership as a broader discipline is like a process. But if we break them down into small processes and think of a small process improvement as a project then for us even though leadership in a broader sense is a process, leadership in terms of a process improvement project becomes a project for us and then we can go after it.

We can say: Okay, let's see what I need to change what." Because then you are changing something in yourself and that becomes like a project for you. And that's why I think people should define leadership in their own ways in the context of where they are operating because project managers have a very different context from someone who is managing a factory floor every day from someone who is managing a religious institution in Southern California for example. They have a very different sense of what leadership means because they are trying to uplift people in a very different sense.

If I were running a non-profit where I am trying to help who are trying to get a sense of hope for the future. And let's say these poor people don’t even have meals to eat every day. That's a very different context of leading those people than leading your sponsors, leading your stakeholders, leading your team members.

So let's bring our leadership definition back to the context of project managers and yes, I think you should define it and you have a right to define it in a broader umbrella sense being influencing other human beings and for you, it will be influencing stakeholders, sponsors and team members and then think about what will it take to influence them and what should they define as a behavior and once you define it as a behavior, you can then think about what's the ideal behavior and then you can start marching towards that ideal behavior and growing yourself into that person. So that's where leadership becomes something we can work with and not the spy-in-the-sky thing that we keep talking and reading about.

Cornelius Fichtner: As a quick aside, the book that Niraj was mentioning is the Power of Project Leadership by Susanne Madsen and of course Susanne was on the program here as well a couple of years back and we talked to her about that book.

Moving on, let's apply leadership on our projects. When exactly do my leadership skills have an active impact on a project that I'm managing? 

Above are the first few pages of the transcript. The complete transcript is available to Premium subscribers only. Please subscribe to our Premium Podcast to receive a PDF transcript.

Tags: PDUs: Leadership, PM Career Development

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