Project Management in Practice

Beyond the alphabet soup of PRINCE2, MSP, MoP, PMBOK, ITIL, Agile

How do I lead when I’m not the line manager?

If you have been managing projects for any length of time, you will have come across scenarios where you are utilizing resources in your projects that actually do not report to you. This is true regardless if you are coming in from the outside and managing a project for an organization, or you are part of the internal Project Management Office (PMO). The project will be identifying resources that may be a combination of existing subject matter expertise and some external skills to complement specific gaps. I have found Project Managers from an internal PMO finds it easiest to deal with external resources for the project. Internal resources usually have their own line managers to keep happy. They are the hardest ones to manage. External resources can be difficult, as they are beholden to the organization, not the Project Manager.

Cross-functional teams are all too common to make worrying about it any use. In fact, this is how project teams should be structured. Most change initiatives will require expertise across the organization, rather than simply a collection of software engineers for example. A Project Manager is not the correct person to lead a team of that nature in day to day business operations. What then does a Project Manager to do to ensure a successful project?

Most successful projects have one thing in common – a sense of purpose for the required change from the top management of the organization. From a project point of view there are two options open to the Project Manager – the carrot and the stick. First is an inclusive approach – to get the line managers contributing resources for the project to be stakeholders in the project itself. If that is not viable or the managers simply refuse to engage, then ensure the mandate for the project comes from above the line managers. They will then have reason to direct their subordinates to contribute towards the success of the project. If the Project Manager is left holding neither carrot or the stick, then consideration must be given whether they should continue with the project. Ingredients are perfect for failure.

If the first hurdle has been crossed and there is buy in from management for the project, it still not a guaranteed success. Actions always speak louder than words. It is easy in theory to provide some resources to a project. However, when push comes to shove, line managers always have the ability to pull the rug from under the project. Consider some practical steps to make that less likely. One approach could be to have the project team located together, where day to day influences can be reduced by the project team around them. If someone has been allocated to the project for a set period of time, they can be provided new contact numbers, email addresses etc. If they have been assigned on a part time basis, it is incumbent on the Project Manager to know the likely demands on that resource. If the resource is involved in billing, beginning of the month may be particularly busy for them and project work may have to be planned outside the first week of the month.

A cross-functional it is precisely that. In their day jobs, they usually do not deal with each other. For many of the team the thought of accountants sitting next to software developers or scientists may be a bridge too far. Project teams by nature have to be less change averse than the others in the organization. They are the ones that will produce the products that will achieve the change. The Project Manager should seek out team members with those qualities.

Above all, a Project Manager needs to exude authority, understand the purpose and be able to communicate that effectively to the team. If that can be achieved, the team will follow.

5 responses to “How do I lead when I’m not the line manager?

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