A newly appointed product development project leader faces an array of organizational and employment relationship problems. The goal of this paper is to provide recommendations to facilitate the development of productive relations between the new product development project leader, employees, supervisors, and peers. The paper includes a brief discussion of the skills required for a successful project leader. Recommendations to build effective relationships with supervisors and managers are provided. The paper includes information on the role played by the project leader in participatory management.
Keywords: product development, project management, project leader, leadership, relationships, organizational.
Strategies for Building Effective Relationships
According to Nahavandi (2000), leading people is one of the most tremendous challenges faced by professionals in organizations. Leadership is also a serious responsibility and a unique opportunity (Nahavandi, 2000). Much has been written and said about the skills a successful leader must possess in order to meet the organizational and performance goals set for them. Nevertheless, more than ever, modern organizations need effective leaders to successfully overcome the complexities of the dynamic business environment (Nahavandi, 2000). Leadership is an extremely complex phenomenon, and the role of managers, stakeholders, employees, and peers in delivering an effective leadership message should not be disregarded. A successful project leader can set the vision and ensure the desired result through collaboration, participation, and learning. A good project leader builds a shared leadership environment and develops effective organizational relationships by being able to satisfy the most pressing demands of the organization and its stakeholders.
Developing Effective Leadership Skills
A newly appointed product development project leader can hardly gain a reputation of an effective and productive one, unless he has the skills and knowledge required to be an effective leader. Hughes, Ginnett, and Curphy (2009) write that leadership is a complex process involving the organization, the leader, his followers, and the context in which they operate. Therefore, an effective leader must first identify the fundamental features of the context in which the organization operates and then, utilize the performance and competitive potentials of this context to the fullest. In the discussed situation, the newly appointed product development project leader is facing a tough situation: revenues on the business’s most popular products have considerably decreased, whereas there is a deficit of new ideas. Therefore, creativity and innovation must become the core elements of the new project leader’s function within the organization.
In the absence of an explicit goal or new prospective ideas, the main skill the project leader needs is to build and implement a new vision. Whether it is a call for new creative ideas or a specific product idea to boost the organization’s competitiveness does not really matter, as long as the vision is explicit, comprehensive, and meaningful (Juli, 2010). The vision-setting skill should become the foundation of the new project leader’s success. Without a comprehensive vision, no leader can set the direction and guide his followers to achieve the desired goal. Leaders, who have a comprehensive vision and can successfully communicate it to the followers, are winners, who “can tell you where they are going, what they plan to do along the way, and who will be sharing the adventure with them” (Juli, 2010, p.21). The current position of the organization is quite confusing, and the new leader cannot get a clear idea of its future growth and available resources without setting a clear vision for his followers.
Once the vision is built, one of the toughest project leader’s tasks is to build collaboration and motivate performance improvements (Juli, 2010). Meeting these tasks is possible by cultivating learning to ensure consistent results (Juli, 2010). Here, the leader’s team and group skills are a vital factor of the organization’s success. Today’s leaders recognize the contribution teams make to organizational performance improvements, and organizations are encouraged to build effective teamwork. For many years, project managers in the discussed organization had no leader to guide and supervise them, and the newly appointed leader must know how to create a cohesive team of peer managers, who will act as one towards the organization’s strategic goals. It is also essential that the leader knows how to sustain positive performance results in a long-term perspective (Juli, 2010). Leadership is not a position but a continuous process (Hughes et al., 2009). The leader must learn to update his knowledge and skills and enhance learning capabilities among followers.
Building Effective Relationships within the Organization
The last project leader had to leave the organization because of conflicts with immediate supervisors and peer managers. For this reason, the newly appointed project leader will have to learn how to work productively with supervisors and peer managers and build effective formal and informal relationships that benefit all parties. In light of the earlier conflicts, the newly appointed leader may need to overcome the existing prejudice and the legacy left by the previous project leader. At the same time, one of the first tasks to accomplish is to understand managers and supervisors’ demands and determine whose demands are to be met first (Cohen, Eimicke & Heikkila, 2008).
Any project leader must remember that he manages the team by serving the needs of its members (Anderson et al., 2010). Rationality and the organization’s interests should be the primary criteria of effective organizational relationships, but the ability to build and maintain formal networks can greatly help to advance the organization’s strategic objectives and goals. Consequently, the new leader must build relationships with immediate supervisors and peer managers in ways that do not hinder the implementation of essential organizational product development projects. Supervisors’, managers’, and staff’s demands should be constantly filtered based on their appropriateness and the potential effects they may cause on the planned and existing project accomplishments (Cohen et al., 2008). The new project leader must also learn to listen to what other managers and supervisors have to say, as they might have greater experience working in the organization and better understand its organizational and project development complexity.
One of the major mistakes to avoid is trying to achieve greater independence in project leadership decisions. The fact is that “the degree of interdependence in modern organizational life is striking” (Cohen et al., 2008, p.22). Needs and demands of all organization’s members and stakeholders cannot be ignored. It is always easier to build organizational relationships based on information exchanges rather than power hierarchies (Cohen et al., 2008). Charisma and openness are more important than power and coercion, and one of the first steps can be an initiation of a meeting with all supervisors and peer managers to hear their needs and concerns, communicate the vision and mission of the product development function, and develop a foundation for the creation of productive long-term workplace relationships.
Participative Management: The Role of Project Leader
In the past decade, participative management has become one of the most popular objects of analysis. Participative management is claimed to be one of the major factors of the project management success. Unfortunately, many project leaders forget that participation in management is not the ultimate point of organizational success in project teams. Shared leadership is the next stage of an effective leadership development in project teams, which enables project teams to assume greater responsibility for their projects and become fully accountable for either success or failure of the project (Knutson, 2001). In this situation, the role of the new project leader is two-fold. First, he must set the stage for the implementation of shared leadership by explaining its purpose to project teams and delineating the lines of responsibility and accountability for the project outcomes. Second, the project leader must create an atmosphere of trust and openness, without which, shared leadership is virtually impossible. As mentioned earlier, building effective formal and informal relations with managers and employees can greatly contribute to the implementation of shared leadership for the benefit of the entire organization. Again, at this stage of professional career, the new project leader must take a position of a listener, not power, to develop better knowledge of organization’s needs and hierarchy and learn how to meet its interests.
A newly appointed project leader must have skills and knowledge to become an effective member of the organization. From setting a vision of ensuring long-term results, the project leader must encourage collaboration and learning. Informal relationships can advance the development of productive strategies and unite peer managers around common organizational goals; however, the project leader must be governed by rational considerations and develop workplace relationships in ways that do not harm the organization. Shared leadership has the potential to become the driving force in meeting the organization’s strategic objectives. Yet, as a relatively new member, the project leader must assume the role of a listener to develop better knowledge of organization’s priorities and needs.