“Leading and influencing leaders”

Interview with Matthew Henry, Project Manager for Arup / ISA

Gantt charts alone do not deliver. In my interview with Matthew Henry, a project manager in the nuclear industry, I explore how the ability to lead other leaders and communicate direction and vision impact project delivery. 

Leadership has always been an interesting topic. Often, however, people associate position with leadership. What is your take on this?

It’s true that people equate position with leadership, but that it doesn’t have to be that way. We can all be leaders in our own way and sphere as we all have a certain amount of influence. The question is, do we always influence in a way that results in a positive outcome or a negative one? 

Do you think that project managers require a high level of leadership ability? Why so?

Yes, as the project manager you are accountable for the delivery and success of the project. The project can only achieve its outcome through the involvement of different people with different skills etc, so a good project manager should be able to lead this group of individuals (which is the project team). I see it as a journey and the project manager should create a vision to take people along the journey way.

How do you see leadership played out within the projects you manage? Can you give examples of how a project manager leads others who, by position, might outrank them?

The key is creating a shared vision whereby the whole project team really gets what the purpose of the project is, and how their respective parts fit into the bigger whole. 

Working with leaders from a variety of backgrounds, what type of leadership has impressed you the most?

Leaders who can create a shared vision and bring the team together. Also, leaders who aren’t afraid to show their weakness and involve others to support them. The best leaders I’ve worked with usually fall into one of 2 groups:

 Those who bring real hands-on experience of the work to the table, and who have risen up through the ranks – these leaders have great empathy and can relate to those who they are leading. They lead from the middle as it were. If we look at other examples, outside of the world of business, the Biblical story of Gideon offers a great example of someone leading right from the middle.

Other leaders come in from outside as it were but are able to create such a compelling vision that people are drawn to towards them and their vision. These leaders equally know their strengths and their weaknesses, so they are able to surround themselves with complementary individuals. These leaders lead from the front. Staying with the Biblical analogy, David and his mighty men offers another good example of someone who is a strong leader, yet ensures he is surrounded by other strong leaders.

In which way do project managers require soft skills in leading people and what would these be?

Soft skills can never be underestimated, its people that make a project happen, not spreadsheets, Gantt charts, schedules etc. The biggest single indicator that a project will succeed is how well the project team works together – nail that, and the rest will happen.

What kind of soft-skills training would you have hoped to have received before entering project management – something you might not have thought you would need more of?

Often a lot of early project management training focuses on the practical process-driven aspects of project management (i.e. the methodology) and the soft-skills about influencing and understanding people’s behaviour is seen as a more advanced aspect of project management training. It would be better if these aspects were run in parallel.

If you could choose any type of training for leaders of today, what would you send them to and why?

Training that helps people understand themselves and how they are perceived and encourages leaders to understand how they can influence others positively.

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Matthew J. Henry

I’ve been in project management for over a decade with experience working for regulators, research organisations and more latterly in infrastructure projects in the nuclear industry. Most of my projects have involved a high degree of uncertainty and complexity being delivered by very diverse teams crossing many technical disciplines.

Leading is all about people and communication. It is also about being vulnerable, knowing your strengths and not being afraid to involve others. Leading is also about casting vision and mobilising others to move and contribute positively to the same direction.

If you would like to find out more about our leadership and team communications training offers, contact us at info@zeitgeistcomms.com and let’s meet up to see how we can support you and your teams.