Leaders are vital to an organization and are found at many levels. They provide direction, guidance, support, feedback, and decision making. A project manager leads a team or teams of people using the resources of the organization to meet goals that support organizational goals. Effective project management and leadership require effective communication.
Leaders create a vision for an organization and communicate the vision. Projects are initiated based upon the vision and strategy of the organization. The vision of the organization drives the direction and use of resources. Organizational leaders must make choices regarding which projects to fund and support, based upon ROI, competitive or market demand, and/or strategic value. As selections are made, projects are assigned, and project managers become responsible for carrying out the plan.
Effective project management and leadership require effective communication. These are the first questions they have to answer:
- What are we communicating?
Before we can lead a project team we must establish our direction, based on a vision, a strategy, objectives, and a plan. The vision of the leaders comes from the “big picture” of an organization. The vision looks into the future to fix direction from which a strategy can be developed. The strategy is then mapped and communicated to the organization, providing direction and objectives. Different levels in an organization are strategic, tactical, or operational. The strategic level of an organization provides the vision, long-term strategy, and high-level objectives. At a tactical level, various groups respond to the strategic plan with a tactical plan that generally includes strategy specific to their group and more detailed objectives that support the long term strategy and objectives. The operational level of an organization generates a more detailed plan for their work which supports the strategy and objectives at the tactical level. The more detailed plans at the operational level support the strategy and plans at the tactical level, which support the long-term strategy and objectives of the organization.
- To whom are we communicating?
- Speaker: As the speaker we need to be clear about our purpose and desired results. If these are not clear to us, it will be impossible to communicate them clearly to the team. This means that we need to have a solid knowledge of the purpose of the project, what we need from this specific audience, and how to communicate with that audience.
- Listener: As project managers we relate to a number of different stakeholders, including executives, customers, senior managers, middle managers, supervisors, other project managers, team members, and external vendors. To prepare for communication with various stakeholders, it requires us to characterize each audience:
- What specific information do they need from us so we can get the support or response we need?
- How much detail should we provide to get what we need? Too much detail can be as harmful or confusing as too little.
- How should we present the information needed (e.g., presentation, telephone, email, text, meeting)? How much information do we need to present to each stakeholder?
- What impact might cultural differences have on my communication, and how should I prepare for these differences?
- How will we know we’ve been successful?
- What do we want to achieve? Why?
Regular and continuing communication with stakeholders at the executive level reminds them and us of our initial purpose, what we want to achieve, and why. Projects may be changed, re-directed, or cancelled but communication allows us to provide progress and status reports. Part of communication with executives and senior managers is to make sure everyone is still clear about the value and purpose of the project to the organization. Regular and continuing communication with customer stakeholders keeps them informed, answers questions, and builds relationships with them on behalf of the organization.
Communicating with core team members means that we assign work, clarify expectations regarding what and when tasks are to be completed, and give feedback on progress. Each of these tasks requires clear and effective two-way communications. Work assignments and expectations should be clear and as simple as possible.
The vision, purpose, and stakeholder involvement should be examined, updated, and repeated regularly, either in writing or in meetings. When difficulties occur or decisions need to be made, re-visiting the project’s purpose and asking what will help or hurt in achieving the purpose can make resolution easier.
Excerpted and available for download from Global Knowledge White Paper: Project Management: Communication is the Key to Management and Leadership