Project Managers as Servant Leaders

This event is seared into my memory for life! It was after lunch at an all-day leadership meeting. We were chatting away at our table, oblivious to the dishes and leftovers. The CEO walked over, asked if I was done, then cleared my plate and cutlery away. I was fairly new to the organization, so I searched the faces of my colleagues at the table, wondering, “Is this normal? Has this happened before?” The look of shock on the face of a director who reported directly to the CEO said it all. Her jaw dropped, she held up her hands in disbelief and shook her head slowly. Obliviously, this had never happened before. And it was a powerful, unforgettable demonstration of servant leadership in action. Now, if the CEO could do this, then every other leader of the organization could emulate it.

Weeks ago, a reader asked what attributes a project manager needs other than specific technical PM skills? Servant leadership topped my list. How does a project manager demonstrate it? There are many simple ways. On one project, there was an item on the critical path, and it all depended on one busy, yet unnoticed, low-key person performing a labourious task on a specific day. I was going to be away at a conference. So I arranged for someone else to get her favourite drink for her on that particular day. That gave her the added boost she needed to get the task done.

As a project manager, your success depends on the contribution of many indirect reports. These project team members have other daily duties competing for their time. Their perception and experience of you will impact how engaged they are and whether they will go the extra mile for you and the project. Recently I heard one person reminisce that project managers used to be kind but many of them have since retired; in the next breath, they complained that new project managers are selfish. Now that is one person’s experience in one company and I would like to believe that it is not generally true. I hope you will do your part to help create the reality of project managers as servant leaders. You will be surprised at how tiny acts of service can help lift the morale of your project team and influence the culture of your organization.

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