A Leader’s Role in Managing Projects

I’ve always lived by the principle that if you aren’t five minutes early, you’re already late. When my wife and I are meeting friends for supper, I’m always pushing her to leave a little early, just to make sure we’re on time. While attending university, I never pulled an all-nighter writing a paper. My desire to finish my papers by the deadline meant organizing my schedule so I would finish the paper well before the due date. And in my current work, if a project or task has been highlighted as valuable to us – even in a small way – the task is almost always finished early.

This way of thinking and planning is even more critical for larger-scale projects that take a long time to complete. I’ve learned that, as an organization, most of the really important things we do are not accomplished in a day or two, but rather require committed energy and focus over very long periods of time – months and even years of work. And to do these projects well – to start them, work through challenges and difficulties, and then finally finish them – requires methodical planning and focus. To do this well, one needs to simultaneously work on parts of the project today but keep the long-term goal in mind at the same time.

When leaders ensure projects start with a clear plan, give inspiration throughout the process, and provide accountability to team members, they are much more likely to be done well and on time.

Writing a book is a good example of this type of project. One of my primary tasks outside of writing and speaking is to oversee all of our book projects through our affiliated division, ACHIEVE Publishing. Most book projects I’ve been a part of have taken about two years to plan, write, edit, design, and print. Finishing a book (let alone finishing it on time) doesn’t happen without careful and methodical planning. The key to meeting our end goal has been our ability to meet deadlines that have been established for multiple checkpoints along the way. I know very well that if part of the large-scale project gets delayed, it will have a ripple effect on the other checkpoints – the final deadline is in jeopardy of being missed. In short, what we do or don’t do today has an impact on our ability to finish a project on time.

Recently I had some pushback from a member of our team related to a new book project that is in the early stages of the process. We are far enough along that various checkpoints have been established, and we know when we want the book finished. We were having difficulty finding a time when all members of the project could meet to discuss an issue that needed to be resolved before moving the book forward. This particular member didn’t feel this same sense of urgency I and others had and asked, “What’s the rush on needing to meet right away, why can’t we just talk in a few weeks when everyone has more time?” In short, she was saying that we had a lot of time to write the book, so we didn’t need to be so worried about meeting right away. I quickly put on my strategic planning hat and reminded her that what we do or don’t do today will impact our ability to actually finish this project on time. I briefly outlined the ripple effect of not meeting. She quickly realized the error in her thinking, and with this reminder, after a bit more effort we were able to find a time to meet that worked for all of us.

As leaders, our elevated position and amplified voice means we play an important role in ensuring a large project happens on time and as planned. After being a part of many larger projects that require years to accomplish, I’ve come to see that a leader has three key tasks when it comes to managing projects: set expectations, give inspiration, and provide accountability.

Set expectations

Starting with a detailed plan that includes project leaders, action items, and timelines is crucial for the success of most projects, big or small. And equally as important is to write the plan down. Saving the plan on a computer is fine, but in any big project I’m involved with, I have the plan printed off and taped on my office wall where I can look at it regularly. If a bigger project isn’t planned well from the start, rest assured that issues that would have been navigable with a plan can potentially derail the project and prevent it from being completed.

Give inspiration

At the start of a project, there is often positive energy that will naturally push it forward for a few months. However, there will inevitably come a time when people lose ambition, become frustrated, or their focus gets sidetracked, and the project momentum slows down or, at worst, stalls. This is when the team members need to hear from you, their leader, so you can remind them of the project’s importance. Remind people of the final vision of the project and be sure to explain how it connects with the purpose, vision, and values of your organization.

Provide accountability

At the start of the project, be sure to communicate that any delay to the plan will have major ripple effects. I have found it helpful to intentionally check in with people a few weeks before a checkpoint to remind them I will do a formal check-in soon. For anyone who has fallen behind, this is a good reminder to get moving and finish their part of the project before the next deadline. If a person or team is struggling to meet deadlines, determine what the issue is and fix it. It may be a skillset is missing and a new team member is needed, workloads are too heavy, or they don’t have the right tools.

Most of the meaningful or important things we accomplish do not happen in fleeting moments of exertion. Rather, they are achieved through continuous and focused effort. When leaders ensure projects start with a clear plan, give inspiration throughout the process, and provide accountability to team members, they are much more likely to be done well and on time.

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Randy Grieser, Author & Speaker

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