With Amazon listing over 250,000 books on leadership it would appear that there isn’t a one size fits all approach to what leadership means and how it should be practiced. With regard to the best leadership approach to take on a project the answers are significantly simpler. Research in this area has repeatedly shown that the best leadership style in a project context is that of a benevolent dictator.
From a project management perspective the term benevolent dictator can be defined as a situation in which it’s agreed that the project manager will posess 51% of the vote in situations that require a tie breaking decision. On a well run project a PM will rarely have to exercise his or her additional 1%. The reason for this is that the team members themselves should be making most of the decisions. The team needs to make the majority of decisions because most projects are simply too complex by their very nature to have all decisions made at the top.
In addition to making the occasional decision, the PM also needs to ensure that the team actually accepts that any decisions he or she ultimately ends up making are regarded as final. Some people might consider this an arbitrary exercise of power. In my mind, making the tie breaking decision should actually be regarded as a productivity enhancer. If you’ve every been on a project where nothing gets done because decisions keep getting made and remade repeatedly will understand you’ll understand my point.
In a world where many people are espousing a model of PM as faciltator, scheduler and general project go-fer I tend to shutter at the implied lack of leadership. There is a time in the life of every project where someone needs to say “ok we truly can’t reach consensus so I will take the responsibility for making the decision that we do “B” rather than “C”. If something goes wrong it’s on my head, now let’s get back to work.” Decision making shouldn’t be threatening and decision making shouldn’t be a power grab. Decision making is just a responsiblity of the role of a project manager.
Leadership, power and authority are thorny issues for a lot of people but in my mind if you don’t need the PM to at least make the occassional decision then you don’t need a PM and if that’s true just think of the money you’ll save….