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Episode 285: They Told You to Become a Project Leader... Now What? (Free)

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This episode is sponsored by The Agile PrepCast for The PMI-ACP Exam:
The Agile PrepCast

Episode 285: They Told You to Become a Project Leader... Now What? (Free) #PMOTAre you a project manager or do you consider yourself to be a project leader? And what are the steps in order to go from manager to more of a leader?

My guest today is Shawn Dickerson (www.linkedin.com/pub/shawn-dickerson/1/97/607). He is the GTM Director for AtTask, Inc. (www.attask.com) and AtTask recently published an eBook titled “Project Leadership - Lessons from 40 PPM Experts on Making the Transition from Project Management to Project Leadership”. And so we’re going to review what it means to be a project leader.

From the eBook introduction we learn the following: Strong project leadership can make the difference between success and failure. When it comes to project management, we tend to talk about the tactical the assignments, the tasks, the approvals, and so on. But business is evolving, and many of us are now being asked to lead change, instead of just managing timelines and milestones. This change is not only happening, it’s accelerating.

Please click here to download the eBook...

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 # 285. This is the Project Management Podcast™ at www.pm-podcast.com and I'm Cornelius Fichtner. Glad you could make it.

Are you a project manager or do you consider yourself to be a project leader? And what are the steps in order to go from manager to be more of a leader?

My guest today is Shawn Dickerson. He is the GTM Director for AtTask Incorporated and AtTask recently published an ebook titled "Project Leadership - Lessons from 40 PPM Experts on Making the Transition from Project Management to Project Leadership". And we are going to review what it means to be a project leader.

This episode is sponsored by The Agile PrepCast™ at www.agileprepcast.com. If you are thinking of becoming PMI-ACP certified, then why not do what you're doing right now - use a podcast. Nearly 1500 project managers so far have used the Agile PrepCast video lessons to prepare for their exam. Give it a try at www.agileprepcast.com/free.

From the ebook introduction, we learn the following: Strong project leadership can make the difference between success and failure. When it comes to project management, we tend to talk about the tactical, the assignments, the tasks, the approvals and so on. But business is evolving and many of us are now being asked to lead change instead of just managing timelines and milestones. And this change is not only happening, it's accelerating.

So sit back and enjoy our interview on becoming more of a project leader.

Podcast Interview

Female voice: The Project Management Podcast’s feature Interview: Today with Shawn Dickerson, Go-To-Market Director for AtTask.

Cornelius Fichtner:Hello, Shawn and welcome to The Project Management Podcast™!

Shawn Dickerson: Thank you very much, Cornelius! It's a pleasure to be here.

Cornelius Fichtner: And it's great to have you. My first question to you really is a simple one but probably very hard to answer. How do you define project leadership?

Shawn Dickerson: It is a big question. It's a question in a lot of people's minds in this industry right now. I would put it like this: I would say that being a project leader is being focused on outcomes instead of milestones.

One example, one just simple example from the world of marketing might be, there was a time in marketing where we would produce a sleek flyer and assume we had done our job. As the web came to the forum, we started to be able to really analyze what people were doing and what they were seeing, we suddenly had this whole world opened up to us about, is what we’re producing actually effective? Is it really moving the business forward? And to me, that's sort of the essence of project leadership. It's less about the milestones. Those will always be important and more about the ultimate outcome of any given strategic project.

Cornelius Fichtner: And how then does that differ from the traditional role of what a project manager does?

Shawn Dickerson: I think the fundamental difference is in the skill set. A lot of the same metrics will still be important. But there are certainly more of an emphasis on some of the softer skills. I think project leaders have great communication skills. A lot of business savvy. They are able to have conversations about business drivers and the impacts of a given project as opposed to just durations and deadlines and so forth.

I think there is also a willingness to work with executive stakeholders in their language. In the board room, there is more of an emphasis on what does this project actually mean for the business and I think a project leader is willing and even eager to engage in that.

In fact one simple example is we had one of our business architects out of a large customer recently. This person was treated to the head of the project management office over there shared with him the presentation she uses for sort of advocating the work of the PMO for demonstrating the value of the organization to some of the executive stakeholders.

So it was an interesting, a very interesting discussion but also an interesting shift from the more traditional world of project management where some of these leaders are focused on running things like a business and building the value of their organization across the board where they can add value.

Cornelius Fichtner: Why do you think it is that we see suddenly such a strong focus on us project managers that we now have to suddenly step up and become project leaders?

Shawn Dickerson: I think fundamentally, I think it's the evolution of the role. This sort of top-down culture, particularly if we look at the IT department where a lot of folks have project management skills and roles. With the advent of shadow IT, more dollars being spent by each individual business units, the role of a project manager is beginning to shift.

In fact, I attended the Gartner PPM Summit earlier this year and they gave a great presentation about what project management will look like in 2020. One of things that they commented on and again this was from more of an IT perspective but they said in the future, it's going to be about adding value to the business units to the projects that need to be executed so that the business can be successful.

And the by the way, incidentally, I'm in IT or I am a project manager. It's more about that role evolving to provide value anywhere a strategic effort needs to happen around the organization from sort of a grassroots approach as opposed just a structured top-down, let's get this stuff done.

Cornelius Fichtner: What would you say is the first thing that someone should do if they are told that they need to get away from being a regular project manager "regular" of course and focus more on project leadership?

Shawn Dickerson: That's a great question. I think probably the biggest thing and this isn’t really getting to a traditional solution in people's minds but as we work with customers, I think the very most important thing is to diagnose the problem. And what I mean is there is an innate desire for every project manager to take that leadership and strategic role. Folks, that have that kind of a responsibility at a company, are sharp thinkers, results-focused, all of those great qualities and they will gravitate toward the strategic nature of the role. But often there's just sort of tactical things that kind of mire us down.

For example, most of us want to gravitate toward those strategic things but if the information for a project or the stakeholders in a project are completely disconnected. For example, a status of a project lives in your email box and in a spreadsheet on somebody's local hard drive and in a couple of post-it notes on somebody's desk. If that's were all of these information is being held, then it means that a project manager doesn’t have the time to invest in project leadership because they're spending all of their time in the really mundane stuff of hustling around from place to place to gather status updates, attending status meetings which the stakeholders they're interested in speaking with may or may not be there.

In fact we had one project manager that I spoke with say: "Look, in the past, the best tool that I had for getting my job done was my shoes because I have to run all over the place to gather the information that's needed to be able to show progress or answer the questions that are put to me even basic questions like who's working on what, is it the right stuff, and are we on track?" So I really think job number one is sort o diagnosing the problem in that, what is it that we have to do everyday that's keeping us from engaging at a more strategic level?

Cornelius Fichtner: Do you see a difference between leading a small project versus leading a large project?

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

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