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Inspiring the Project Team

Created on 14 May 2009 Written by Samanthi Fernando, PMP
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A practical approach to achieving project success through effective team motivation and collaboration.

If you are managing projects, it is inevitable that you will come across an uninspired unenthusiastic team member who needs to make a significant contribution in order to make the project a success. As the PM it will be your challenge to overcome this situation to make things work. Often times you will need to inspire the entire team to deliver something great. Delivering something good is simply not good enough, if you have a team that has the potential to do something better with the appropriate guidance and leadership. Keeping the team as a whole on track and engaged in the big picture is very important.

One of the key factors to engaging the project team is acknowledging their strengths and highlighting their contributions. Often times PM's take the approach of pointing out only what is not done. While this is adequate to get a response from someone, it is almost always not the desired response. Having a section in your project status report for key accomplishments is a proven method to keep things in perspective. Some PM's respond to every single deliverable with thank you emails. This to me dulls the appreciation and becomes boring and predictable. Waiting for a major milestone and sending out a carefully crafted thank you email to a wider audience has a greater impact on the project team.

The PM often plays the role of a problem solver or a mediator, bringing together strong individuals with strong opinions to work together towards a common goal. Never hesitate to apologize on behalf of your team. If someone on the team made a questionable comment during a meeting or failed to communicate something important, as the PM you can say you are sorry for what happened. The individuals involved will most often come out appreciating the fact that you took ownership of the situation and spoke up for your team. The PM is the force that brings the functional leads together and brings out the best in them. This is done best by acknowledging the strengths and competencies of your functional leads and relying on them for their expertise to propel the project towards success.

If as the PM, you also happen to be an expert in a particular functional area, don't let this appear to be a threat to the team. Use it to your advantage by offering your humble opinion and gently leading the team to consider your ideas. When the team is not threatened by the PM acting like he or she wants to take over their job, the cooperation is positive. The team realizes that you are a partner who wishes to contribute to their success and the resulting motivation is rewarding.  Motivating the project team also means not being afraid to delegate. Some PM's feel they may lose hold on their role if they let others do some of their PM tasks. In reality it is quite the opposite. Team members feel empowered and trusted when the PM believes in them enough to let them take on a leadership task. Let the Junior PM or the new Assistant Project Coordinator take responsibility for a presentation to the stakeholders if they are up to the task. It will only show the team that you are confident. If you don't ever delegate, it only makes you look insecure. A smart PM will have a cross-trained backup available for some important tasks. Show someone else how to do resource leveling. You will not end up with that person taking over your job. You will most probably end up with someone who is willing to share something else with you that you don't know how to do. Also telling somebody what to do and making them do it the way you want versus telling somebody how you would do it and inspiring them to do it right can have two very different outcomes.

Have you ever been to a meeting where the PM acts like he or she knows how to do everything in the project? The likely outcome would be an unimpressed project team. A PM may not always know every functional area thoroughly. The simplest way to react to a question where you don't know the answer is to say "let me check with my functional lead and get back to you". Take down an action item for yourself and follow up immediately after the meeting. If the subject is something you understand, then send out the answer yourself. Ask your lead to explain the answer to you and if you still don't feel confident enough to phrase it, ask if that person could help you write the response. Or ask if they could address the question directly. The objective is not to show the project team how much you know, but to make sure the right answer gets to the right audience in a timely fashion. If the response creates a chain of emails, take action to make it stop and call a meeting with the person asking the questions and your functional lead. Facilitate the discussion and document the outcome. You'll still end up being the hero for reaching a resolution even though you did not have the expertise to discuss the subject matter in its entirety yourself.

A smart PM inspires the project team after carefully strategizing each approach and catering to each individual differently. All team members do not react alike to the same tactics. Learn from your mistakes. Be humble enough to look at what went wrong and make changes in your approach. It will not go unnoticed. Rather than being branded for certain traits, be tuned to the reactions of others and evolve your traits to suit the situation. Listen to all feedback and if there is no feedback then ask for it and use it.

Your signature PM traits may stay the same throughout the lifecycle of a project and even throughout your career. But there will be several qualities that evolve and even disappear along the way. One very important thing to consider with project teams is the method of communication. Some things are better said in person or at least over the phone. Emails can sometimes come across as cold and insistent. Instant Messages have the tendency to be taken out of context and even seem like a nuisance. A conversation can take the edge out of something unpleasant. A phone call can set the tone for something otherwise seemingly accusatory. Know when to use which. Email and IM are both very important and useful tools that the PM needs to keep things on track and get quick status updates. But taking a moment to decide whether to walk over to speak to someone over sending an email about an issue can change the impression you will have on that person.  

As an effective leader, the PM must strive to empower the project team with resources, information and inspiration. This requires making an extra effort to inspire the project team to see beyond their differences to see the common finish line. There is no set formula to achieve project success, but standing up for your team and always partnering with them to make things happen will help you inspire them to get there.

Copyright 2009 Samanthi Fernando, PMP - California, USA

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Last Updated on 07 June 2013

What is project leadership?

Created on 07 July 2007 Written by Jean Binder
Hits: 2442

Project leadership can be defined as the creation of a vision about the project objectives that directs all team members to work towards it. Good project leaders are able to influence the task prioritisation and the availability of the project team members towards achieving the project goals and strategies.

Project management and project leadership

Project managers make use of proven practices to plan project activities and monitor important elements such as cost, scope, time, quality and risks. Project management is the application of these practices by using ‘hard skills’ such as planning, estimating and controlling. Project leadership adds to the management practices and involves providing direction, motivating the project team to achieve the project’s objectives and obtaining commitment from the key team members and stakeholders. Project leadership is the application of ‘soft skills’ to obtain commitment, foster innovation, negotiate conflicts and create a team spirit that increases the quality of the deliverables and customer satisfaction. Good leadership can reduce the intensity and frequency of control activities on medium-sized projects, and is usually mandatory on large projects and programs.

Last Updated on 31 July 2012


Created on 07 July 2007 Written by Jean Binder
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 How can you obtain commitment from global team members? How can you develop followers in the different locations that can disseminate the project vision and make sure that all team members across the globe are aligned on the project objectives and strategies?


The strategies and practices depend on the organisational and country cultures, the project type, size and duration, and even on the different personalities involved. However, there are some broad recommendations for leadership competencies and activities, to win these challenges and increase the commitment from the team members located in other countries. You must evaluate each recommendation according to the situations and projects you are involved in.

The recommendations that follow can be a starting point when you start to acquire and develop your project team. For other recommendations, refer to the book, chapter 2:

·        Set clear goals and directions at the project outset, with participation from key team members in different locations. Online brainstorming techniques (discussed in the book chapter 10) can be very effective to collect feedback and obtain buy-in from people across locations.

·        Build a vision that serves the interests of the main stakeholders and that can be translated into the achievement of the project objectives, considering the cultural dimensions of the main stakeholders.

·        Together with the key team members, develop a strategy to achieve the project objectives, and make sure that all or most team members agree on its feasibility.

·        Communicate the vision, goals and directions equally to all local and distant project team members. Organise online sessions using the synchronous tools (read the book chapters 22 and 23), and take this opportunity to launch the project website, publishing the vision, goals and directions, and organising polls to gather opinions and ideas (read the book chapters 19 and 24).  


Image © Paulpaladin | 
Last Updated on 31 July 2012


Created on 07 July 2007 Written by Jean Binder
Hits: 2486

commitmentThe study of motivation concerns those processes that give behaviour its energy and direction. Energy implies that behaviour has strength that it is relatively strong, intense and persistent. Direction implies that behaviour has purpose that is aimed toward achieving a particular goal (Johnmarshall Reeve)  


Motivation can be defined as an individual process that provides energy and direction to adopt a specific behaviour or perform a determined task. In project management, the energy must ensure the team members will complete their tasks on time, and the direction needs to lead the tasks performed toward the project vision, mission and goals, following pre-determined strategies. Each individual can initiate a self-motivation process by understanding how the task can satisfy personal or professional needs, suit expectations and beliefs and invoke positive emotions.


When working with team members from other countries over a distance, the challenge is higher, as suggested by Staples, Wong and Cameron (2004), ‘Tasks may appear unconnected, the big picture is not always easy to visualise, and it may be difficult for employees to remain committed to the project.’ The cultural dimensions are a good starting point to pre-empt the possible values and beliefs of people you seldom meet face-to-face. One-to-one telephone discussions and local coordinators can help you to obtain individual feedback from each key team member and monitor their reactions and emotions. You can compare these feedback elements to the original assumptions and adapt your attitude and leadership style.


In the chapter 2 of the book. I describe how to increase the level of motivation by making use of the roles and responsibilities. A classic tool for this is McClelland’s achievement motivation theory, which groups individuals according to their need for achievement, affiliation and power (adapted from Rad and Levin, 2003):

·        Achievement-oriented individuals seek attainable but challenging goals and feedback on their performance.

·        Affiliation-oriented people desire to be part of a group and have human interaction roles.

·        Power-oriented team members aspire to make an impact and to be recognised as influential and effective.




Sources:  Rad, P. and Levin, G. (2003) ‘Achieving Project Management Success using Virtual Teams’ (J. Ross Publishing, USA) 

Reeve, J. (2001) ‘Understanding motivation and emotion – third edition’ (John Wiley & Sons, USA) 

Staples, D. S., Wong, I. K.and Cameron, A. F. (2004) ‘Best practices for virtual team effectiveness’ in Pauleen D. J. (Ed) ‘Virtual teams: Projects, protocols and processes’ (Idea Group Publishing, UK)

 Image © Carole Nickerson | 
Last Updated on 31 July 2012

Interview with Rubén Fuentes (member #2100)

Created on 04 May 2008 Written by Jean Binder
Hits: 3057

In the interview below (conducted on the occasion of the 2100th membership in our LinkedIn group), Rubén Fuentes talks about his international experience, and how leadership is a key skill for global project managers.

What was the most complex situation you lived on a global project, and how did you survive?
The most complex situation was coordinating time and progress of teams working concurrently in five different locations, with four different time zones and a time difference of up to 9 hours. The engagement incorporated resources from 4 different countries (Mexico, Spain, Ireland and the U.S.), which added complexity to the project as most of the participants would only speak their native languages.

What do you enjoy about working on global projects?
The challenge of dealing with cultural diversity is exciting. In addition, “global” implies by definition a broader reach of the outcome of the project.

What are the main challenges you face on your day-to-day project management, particular to Global Projects?
Many cultures still demand face-to-face interaction to get people into action. Although there’s always some traveling time involved, the challenge is twofold: aligning interests in order to get people’s commitment to results and reinforcement on the use of collaboration tools to get things done.

How do you believe the Global Project Management Framework can help global project managers? What would you recommend to improve the framework in its next version?
I believe the Global Project Management Framework as it is right now is a good starting point when trying to offer a principles guide to the global PM. I would suggest that along with the abstracts presented in each section, there were business cases and white papers that illustrate different examples and provide alternative approaches to complex situations. In my opinion, the 25 topics represented in the 5 dimensions of the framework provide a well rounded perspective of the key aspects in global project management. I would definitely adopt the model as an addition to the toolset I already use.

What word of advice would you give to other global project managers?
When you go Global, the meaning of “Leadership” exceeds any scholar definition. The Art may even be more important than the Science when dealing with global teams. Effective communication is crucial along the way.

In case you already read the book "Global Project Management : Communication, Collaboration and Management Across Borders" , what is your opinion?
I have not read the book but I sure will very soon.


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Rubén Fuentes has over 15 years of Global Project Management experience, serving companies in a wide range of industries. During his career, Rubén has been involved mainly in Business Process Improvement and IT projects. His professional interests include Internet Strategy and Business Intelligence. He currently manages a project that involves five geographically-dispersed teams in four countries, in two languages. Rubén lectured in 2000 and 2001 the “Deloitte’s Manager School” with the Mexico City office and was guest speaker at ITESM in the following seminars: “Efficient Consumer Response” (1999), “The Consulting Week” (2001) and “Enterprise Transformation” (2002).] . See his full profile on LinkedIn and invite him to join your network. 
Last Updated on 31 July 2012
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