As children we are encouraged to learn through doing – observe, apply, repeat. Growing through application and repetition. But as we get older, gaining knowledge and comfort in the professional world, we often become content and the tide of life rolls in. We fall under the waves – treading water to keep up with task lists and the pace of the business today.

When I was just beginning my Project Management (PM) career, I was given the opportunity to take on a team lead role. I didn’t have a lot of experience, so I read articles, took classes, and silently observed the senior leadership – discovering the best (and worst) ways to lead a team. I spent time truly applying the best of what I learned. As I gained experience, my concentration began to drift from applying what I’ll call the softer skills of program management – effective communication, problem solving, and influencing/motivating team members – and focused more managing projects. My teams were established, but it sure didn’t take long for issues to arise when I focused solely on managing the project (instead of the projects and the people).


I thought everyone was already rowing the boat in the same direction, so to speak.


Understanding this need, the Project Management Institute (PMI) has updated their Continuing Certification Requirements (CCR). To maintain certifications within the education track, you must map to the PMI Talent Triangle – Technical PM, Strategic and Business Management, and Leadership. I like having another incentive driving me to update my leadership skills. I need it.

Today’s project managers face different challenges. Projects may have fewer assigned resources and often are multi-generational and diverse, including geographically. As the team leader, others will look to you to manage the “people” problems in addition to project problems. It’s easy to become immersed in the mechanics of technical project management. Updating project schedules, creating a risk logs, and managing scope are PM 101, but what do you do when two top performers are conflicted and neither will budge on their viewpoint? How do you deliver bad news to your stakeholders? How do you motivate your team to do more when they are already logging 10 hours per day?

How you address tough decisions defines your leadership style and the responsiveness of your team. While leadership training, blogs, and articles are valuable, you must understand your team to apply your leadership skills. Spend time with them – in person, if possible. In the age of technology, it’s far too easy to send an email or text instead of walking down the hall. Face time builds relationships and actions are accomplished when rapport is established. Help them understand why their work is important, how the results fit into the larger organization. And, the question that is usually below the surface: What’s in it for me? Help them understand that too.


Ultimately, we must go back to that childlike way of learning – observe, apply, repeat.


Each team situation is unique, so try different techniques; fine tune them and make it part of your daily routine. Program management is just as much about managing the people as it is the project. In leadership training, we’re given the techniques and tools to become better communicators, solve problems, listen actively, and engage/influence others. Formalized leadership training is always beneficial and will certainly help you maintain PMI’s CCR. But if you don’t apply those skills to your team, you’ve only satisfied the PMI requirement.

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