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Chapter 20 - Softskills

2. Leadership

Essential management skills

A project manager

  • can delegate tasks and has confidence in others,
  • takes over the total responsibility, but also formulates sub-responsibilities,
  • allows sufficient freedom for action to subordinates for finding and realising their ways,
  • controls the team members' behaviour in a conscious and constructive way, has discipline and time for communication,
  • engages the team members in decisions or has a reason for decisions taken,
  • adopts the management style to the specific team and working situation, is open for feedback,
  • acts as an example and is acknowledged as a leader and
  • gives direct feedback.

Even if you as the project manager have these skills, problems can occur. For example, when a team member was chosen as project manager, conflicts can arise. Of course, everyone starts from scratch, but a project manager who has little or no management experience and therefore has not yet defined an own management model and cannot deal with his authority, can have a negative impact on the project. On the other hand, problems can arise if the project manager could handle his authority but has no or insufficient formal authority. In a matrix organisation, the project manager can perform his professional tasks perfectly, but when conflicts arise between the project and the line, it becomes a challenge for him.

In general, this means that you need management skills, but you will grow with every single project, because no two projects are alike.

Responsibility of the project manager

From a project risk management perspective, you are well advised to consider these problems, particularly since it can be taken for granted that healthy and satisfied employees perform better. Sick employees, on the other hand, generate costs and cause project personnel shortages. You should therefore ensure a pleasant environment, an appropriate working climate, efficient work organisation and a balance between work and leisure time for both your staff and yourself.

Staff who is stressed and lack concentration, which may simply be due to overwork, work less efficiently. In this case, you should discuss the problem with the employees in question, try to discover the causes and find solutions. It is important that the project manager is well organised and efficient so that he can set an example for his staff.

It is your responsibility to inform yourself about and respect the main provisions of employment laws and company regulations concerning working time, health and safety and employment protection of the countries in which you are managing your project.

Management concepts

The so-called management by approaches are concepts that give managers orientation when performing their management function. The best-known ones are:

  • Management by objectives
  • Management by delegation
  • Management by exception

Management by objectives

This approach is all about management on the basis of jointly-agreed objectives (= target agreement). The objectives have to be SMART:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Assignable
  • Realistic
  • Time-related

It is a cooperative management style in which project personnel agree individual objectives with the project manager. They are more motivated to achieve these objectives because they were involved in their definition and in the decision-making process.

Management by delegation

In this approach, the project manager delegates tasks to staff for a specific period of time. During this time, they are not only authorised to structure their own work, but also to assume responsibility for the timely delivery of results within the agreed budget and to the agreed quality.
This provides the project manager with additional time for other tasks, gives team members a sense of responsibility and ensures that they learn new things - both technical skills and soft skills such as decision-making, putting forward opinions and ideas or reporting on the progress of a work package.

At the same time, delegation prevents the project manager from becoming a bottleneck that impairs the workflow. If he is absent on holiday or on sick leave, other members of the team can assume his responsibilities and keep the project going because the project manager is no longer the sole knowledge carrier.

Management by exception

This approach is based on the idea that a project manager only intervenes in exceptional cases in the work of a team member to whom he has delegated a task. However, this approach only works if the staff to whom the tasks have been delegated submit reports at the agreed intervals and meet cost, deadline and quality targets.

The project manager intervenes if problems occur.

Management styles

A management style is the pattern of behaviour that a manager demonstrates in management situations. The main styles are:

  • Authoritarian (= hierarchical) management style
  • Cooperative (= participatory) management style
  • Management by the team itself
  • Laissez-faire management style

In practice, a mixture of styles is generally used.

Management style Definition
Authoritarian management style = Hierarchical management style
A project manager who has an authoritarian management style
  • states objectives without asking the opinion of team members
  • issues instructions
  • checks to ensure that they have been carried out
    This style puts pressure on the team and only motivates them superficially
    Team members who fear failure or sanctions tend to be less creative
    The working climate in organisations with authoritarian management structures is often cool and inhibiting
  • Cooperative management style = Participatory management style
    The cooperative management style is a compromise between the staff following the manager's instructions and structuring their own work
    The project manager controls his team, but he gives them as much scope as possible to make their own decisions
    The objective is to create a motivated and responsible group with a strong sense of team spirit
    The cooperative management style is more practical and successful than the authoritarian management style
    Management by the team itself Each team member assumes responsibility for his area of competence
    In this management structure, the team members must be highly competent, have a strong sense of responsibility, have good communication skills, accept each other, support each other and be able to solve conflicts
    Laissez-faire management style Anyone who uses the laissez-faire style is not managing
    The team is left to get on with its work in the hope that this freedom will motivate it to perform well
    Sometimes, this approach causes team members to lose their orientation
    They lose sight of the objectives and put deadlines, costs and quality at risk

    Flexible management style: mixing management styles

    A cooperative management style is desirable, though not practical in every situation. It is suitable for project phases where it is important to ensure that the project team members agree and identify with the project and that they creatively structure the project as a team (e.g. objective definition, risk analysis). In difficult situations it is more important to have an efficiently functioning team. In this case, a more authoritarian management style is appropriate. There is no time for lengthy discussions and the project manager has to assert his authority and take action.

    Efficient decision making

    Project managers have to make decisions every day. Examples of classic project situations requiring a decision include:
    "Should we tell the customer about the cost explosion now or should we wait until the next status meeting?"
    "Should we recruit this project staff member or wait until we find one who is better qualified?"
    "Should we buy the tool from supplier A or B?"

    Anyone who can say in all good faith that he has systematically prepared for a decision can cope more effectively with wrong decisions. Insignificant decisions that have no serious consequences if they turn out to be wrong are a good way of practicing decision making.

    The decision-making procedure comprises six steps:

    Decision making procedure graphically shown.

    It is important to write down the alternatives. This helps you to retain an overview and feel that everything is under control. In many cases, all you will need is a table of arguments in favour of and against the decision. The advantages and disadvantages are then entered below.

    Alternatives are noted, weighted and based on the findings compared.

    Management potential

    There are three factors which can be used to differentiate between managers who have the potential to succeed and those who are less likely to be successful:

    • Disposition (personality structure of the potential manager)
    • Management competence (broadest and most flexible possible repertoire of skills)
    • Spin-out behaviour (career-stoppers/ career-damaging behaviour traits)

    At this point, it is necessary to highlight the aspect of career stoppers because they constitute a high risk for the people involved. Depending how firmly the person is integrated in the management structure, this can lead to career problems. The more developed these behaviours are, the larger they are in number and the lower the degree of integration of a person in a department or organisation, the more his career will be jeopardised.

    Short story…

    …from Carl Rogers's life
    Two years ago during lunchtime when Carl met a colleague and they talked about the everyday work of a project manager and management problems.

    "Did I tell you I used to be an officer in the army? Like all other new recruits, I initially had to complete basic military training. It was quite a challenge for us because my training unit had just been formed when I arrived. Everyone was new and nobody knew each other. After the first couple of weeks in an unfamiliar military environment, we started asking ourselves what our officers and NCOs (Non-commissioned officer) were thinking when they issued their instructions. Why did our company commander let our officers take entirely different approaches? It didn't take long for us to realise why and to see how to solve the problem." Carl's colleague Harry ate a mouthful and continued.

    "One morning, we got a pretty unpleasant wake-up call with whistles blown and alarms going off at 3 a.m. We had to get dressed on the double in combat dress, a metal helmet and a parka. Then it was off to weapons issue and we had to fall in to attention on the barrack square, all at a run. 30 minutes later, at 3.30 a.m., the whole company was ready to march." "Respect!" Carl interjected.

    "Our officers were standing in front of us and it was interesting to see that they were dressed completely differently. From an NCO with a pistol and a beret on his head to our NCO who, like us, was wearing full combat dress plus a metal helmet and carrying an assault rifle. Hadn't our company commander issued a clear order about clothes and equipment? Then we went to the drill ground around five kilometres away from the barracks. It was a pretty long trek for us recruits, even without the heavy gear we were wearing and carrying and the metal helmet. We were also new to outdoor physical exercise. Over the course of the day, we realised that different officers used different training and management methods. Our NCO always showed us what to do before an exercise. Others simply gave verbal instructions or allowed the assistant instructors to demonstrate it. It was a really strenuous day for us recruits. I admit, we had nothing but criticism for our NCO, even though he wasn't responsible for us spending the day on the drill ground."

    "I bet you did", Carl said.

    "That evening, he topped it all. All NCOs handed over the command to their assistant instructors. They walked back to the barracks with the recruits while the NCOs were driven there by jeep. Our NCO had originally told us that we'd all be walking back to barracks together. He'd also told us that we'd get credit for being the first team to reach the barracks. To help us achieve this, he distributed the load by taking away the weaker men's gear, giving it to the stronger soldiers and taking some of it himself. Then he told us that we could move a lot faster with an aviator's march."

    "What's an aviator's march?" Carl asked, curiously.

    "It's quite easy, really. The last soldier in a marching column runs along the side of the column to the front. When he gets there, the soldier who is now last does the same thing. This continues until you get wherever you are going", explained Harry Anson.

    "Sounds pretty exhausting", Carl answered, "Especially after a hard day on the drill ground!"

    Harry nodded, "Yes, we cursed our NCO. But we were the first team to arrive back at the barracks! Our NCO came into the barrack room with us afterwards and helped us to clean our gear. He showed us how to put all the objects inside or on top of our lockers in the right order. Other NCOs let the assistant instructors perform these tasks and handed out 'locker instructions', a document telling the recruits how to put their gear in their lockers. Our company commander had been watching everything closely on that first day. He then discussed what he had seen with the NCOs. He explained the different approaches, pointed out their advantages and disadvantages and told them what he expected of an exemplary NCO.

    He asked the NCOs who was stronger, them or the recruits. They all said that they were stronger. Then he issued his instructions for future outdoor drills.

    From then on, all soldiers wore the same combat gear and carried the same weapons for outdoor training, whether they were platoon leader, section commander or simple soldier. We always spent our entire training days together from that time onwards, i.e. they started and ended at the barracks for everyone. Everyone received the same treatment during training. All officers, NCOs and soldiers had the same constraints, used the same transport and got the same things to eat and drink!"


    To summarise the keywords of that chapter, here is a quick overview:

    Technical term Definition
    Management concepts Management by objectives
    Management by delegation
    Management by exception
    Management styles Authoritarian (= hierarchical) management style
    Cooperative (= participatory) management style
    Management by the team itself
    Laissez-faire management style
    SMART Objectives need to be:

    Test yourself!

    Now it is time to check your knowledge.

    Answer the following questions for yourself. Please take your time and think carefully about what you would answer before revealing the solution.

    Which management skills should a project manager have?

    The project manager

    • should be capable of delegating tasks to and trusting other people.
    • should be able to assume overall responsibility while defining specific partial responsibilities.
    • should provide the team with plenty of scope to develop their own solutions.
    • should consciously and constructively guide the behaviour of team members, be self-disciplined and take the time to communicate.
    • should involve the team in decision making and be able to state reasons for making decisions.
    • should adapt his leadership style to the group and situation and listen to feedback.
    • has a role model function.
    • provides direct feedback.
    Which management concepts are used?
    • Management by objectives:
      Jointly-agreed objectives.
    • Management by delegation:
      Competences and responsibility for a specific area of work are delegated as far as possible to employees.
    • Management by exception:
      The project manager lets personnel deal with routine tasks and only gets involved in exceptional cases.
    Which basic types of management style are used?
    • Authoritarian (= hierarchical) management style
    • Cooperative (= participative) management style
    • Management by the team itself
    • Laissez-faire management style
    • Mixture of these styles
    What responsibility does the project manager have in the areas of occupational safety and health?
    • The project manager acts as a role model with regard to self organisation and performance discipline.
    • He ensures compliance with statutory provisions.
    • He observes occupational health and safety measures.
    What steps are involved in an efficient decision-making process?
    • Justification of the necessity for a decision
    • Description of alternatives
    • Reduction of alternatives to one clear statement
    • List alternatives with their consequences in a matrix
    • Weight consequences
    • Make the decision
    • State the reasons for the decision
    • Document the decision