IPMA International Project Management Association
3 August 2018 / 10:12

The Shape of Project Leadership

For me, this is one of the shortest blogs I’ve written, but I hope what it has to say will stay with you for a long time.

There’s a story I tell at conferences around the world.

It’s called ‘The Power of Project Leadership – Seven Leadership Lessons’.

It’s a story I like telling because it’s a true story and it’s a true story, because it’s my story and it’s my story because what I talked about happened to me and where I tell of seven lessons in leadership I learned that helped me transition from being a project manager to becoming a project leader.

But this blog is not about that story, although it is linked to it and so, if you want to know more of my story, you’ll have to come along and hear me talk about it at a conference somewhere!

The leadership lessons I learned stood me in incredibly good stead, not just in the world of projects, but also in the world of life as things both personal and professional, took their various twists and turns.  One thing is clear to me though; there is no doubt in my mind that without the lessons I learned I would not have become the project leader I became.

The reason I wanted to write this blog is because after a recent conference where I told my story, I had a rather belated, but for me, startling realisation.  It wasn’t what I learned that really made the difference or even who I learned from.  It was how the what from the who helped to shape my thoughts, influence my attitude, affect my actions, reinforce my beliefs and change my behaviours, which did.

And during my project career, there was one person in particular that had the greatest impact on me as to the how than anyone before, or since.

His name was Arthur.  Arthur was a wily ‘old fox’, a very knowledgeable and experienced project leader.  He was a genuinely loveable guy.  He was also someone who told things ‘how it was’, like it, or not and that just made me love him all the more.

Arthur sadly passed away many years ago now, but if I close my eyes, I still see him and if I listen carefully I can still hear him and many of my ‘seven lessons’ I learned from him.

And it was after telling my ‘Power of Project Leadership’ story at a recent event, I really began to think……how often do we as project managers or as project leaders reflect on our what, our who and our how when it comes to how we’re ‘shaping up’ to become great project leaders?

How many of us really make and take time to think long, hard and deep as to not only what we learned from our projects, our peers and our achievements, but what we also learned about ourselves?

It was Arthur’s influence that made me think about how I reacted and why, to any given situation or to any given person.

He made me think about the way I behaved and whether that behaviour was appropriate for the context, the situation, the environment of my project and the people I was with and working for?

He made me see things from others points of view, by allowing me to ‘look backward’ and ‘reflect forward’.

He allowed me to challenge my beliefs and whether they had or needed to change, particularly when it came to my belief in my ability to lead.

He taught me attitudes can be taught and that no matter how delicate or dangerous a situation, I could choose a positive or a negative attitude and outlook; the energy required for both was the same.

He made me realise I should always keep in mind, what it was I hoping to achieve and that if I did not adapt would not be.   He reminded me that self-development is the best form of any development and that it was always better to strive for progress, not perfection.

He told me as a young project manager, that if I wanted to become ‘an old project leader’, I should constantly be thinking about what training, development, networking or reading might help me and how that may help me to help others become the project leaders that they could become.

When he explained things to me, he would tell stories to make his point.  He was great at reminding me on what kind of stories to tell or may be valuable to have and with whom and he also reminded me when it was best to let silence speak for you.

Above all, he showed me that I should always only ever be me and not something or someone I’m not was the greatest of all leadership characteristics.  He would constantly say there was a reason we had two ears and one mouth and that was because there will always be more to listen to, than to say.

He showed me that humility and empathy where vital leadership qualities.

I know from personal experience that as a project manager, making the transition to project leader is no easy journey.

I know that as a project manager making this journey, there are always many obstacles and challenges along the way.  I know also, that the largest obstacle of all is often time itself, or should I say, lack of it; ‘just how am I supposed to find the time to think long, think hard and think deep when I’m so busy managing my projects, I hear you say.

My answer would be this.  We always have time to do the things we do first.

And if you are really saying that when it comes to thinking about your development, your learning and how you are being ‘shaped’ to become the project leader you are capable of becoming that you simply don’t have the time, then perhaps it’s time to make time by changing your career, or by changing your attitude.

After all, as Arthur once said to me;

“If you always do, what you’ve always done, you will always get what you’ve always got….and I’ve already got you on my project which is great for me; you’re doing a great job! 

But, what you’re not doing such a great job at is thinking about what you can become as a project manager and to do that, you must make time to think long, deep and hard about how you are shaping up to become what you are capable of becoming. Do you even know?

With a wry smile he continued to say; “I know I’m always demanding more of you but that’s only because you should always demand more of yourself. I know you are busy and being busy takes time but if you do not have time for yourself, you will never develop to become what you can become. You always have time to do the things you do first and those first things should be spent on you.”

Arthur’s words, to this day, have stayed with me.

I hope now, they can stay with you too and help you to become the project leader you will always have time to believe in.

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Paul Hodgkins

Author of this post

Paul joined Siemens in 1984 as a graduate trainee and within two years entered the world of Project Management. His enthusiastic approach and project business success was recognised in his project management of some key projects; most notably in the then government owned British Rail; the implementation of communications infrastructure programme for London Undergrounds’ Jubilee Line Extension and a major telecommunications refresh programme across the Government Department of Social Security as well as in leading the communications implementation project for the Channel Tunnel Rail Link. From February 2006 until June 2013, he was responsible for leading the [email protected] programme (Siemens global programme addressing project business) across the UK and North West Europe where his motivational and inspirational leadership style led to even greater levels of project and programme business success. His efforts led Siemens UK plc in 2008 to become the first corporate organisation in the UK to receive accreditation from the Association for Project Management. This was in recognition of Siemens UK plc’s commitment to professional project and programme management development. In April 2009, Paul was nominated by ‘Project Magazine’ as one of ten ‘key influencers’ in the UK in relation to the profession of project and programme management. This recognition placed him in the company of the then Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone and Sir David Normington, the then Permanent Secretary to the UK Government Home Office. In July 2013 he established his own business, Paul Hodgkins Project Consultancy, where he has already begun to help businesses “unleash the power of projects and programmes”. He continues to be recognised for his contribution in developing the project management profession and has written articles for and appeared in numerous project management publications. Paul was appointed as a Fellow of the Association for Project Management (FAPM) in October 2009 and represented Siemens as part of the PMI Global Executive Council and APM Corporate Leaders Advisory Group. Paul also guest presents as part of University College London’s MSc on the Strategic Management of Projects.