Leadership in a virtual project management world

Woman sat at desk facing her computer screen on a video call with several people.

Working in an increasingly virtual world, the performance of business leaders in projects is facing more scrutiny than ever.

Equally, the so-called “new normal” has magnified any leadership deficiencies that were there before and it’s vital that leaders are aware of that and take appropriate action. Failing to do so will mean potentially more workforce attrition as employees seek better companies and people to follow.

As well as getting the balance right between leadership and management – such as not micromanaging their staff – leaders need to lead with purpose, show confidence, be open and honest, committed and passionate and able to handle situations involving ambiguity and uncertainty.

They need to provide clarity about why organizations are doing what they’re doing and to create a compelling vision that takes a team with them.

Changing dynamics of leadership

In the virtual environment, leadership skills need to be distributed more widely so people can take responsibility for making things happen.

For example, younger people can be given more confidence to lead projects. However, this means existing leaders should be “comfortable in their own skin” to encourage the next generation. This is important to improve projects as well as day-to-day departmental activity. To negate it is hugely damaging for morale, as well the organization and the leader too.

People emerging as future leaders still need guidance, coaching and support when their bosses want to expand existing job specification and responsibilities.

Equipping leaders for the virtual environment

To improve performance when operating in a virtual way, there’s a significant list of actions leaders can take:

  • Be visible and avoid “going missing”, especially in tough times
  • Provide consistent messaging
  • Focus on your people and how they’re feeling
  • Demonstrate emotional intelligence and think how your decisions will affect others in projects and programmes
  • Create psychological safety for teams by saying it’s OK to fail and learn from the experience of doing new and difficult things
  • Exhibit the best business behaviours – collaboration, rich communication, transparency
  • Communicate with confidence and empathy
  • Be both passionate and compassionate
  • Provide a clear structure in which people understand their roles, responsibilities and have access to escalation if they need support
  • Practise resilience – show you have the strength to endure, especially in leading a programme, which is hard work
  • Have flexibility and the ability to pivot to the demands of projects and programmes, and recognize that these high-risk endeavours are stressful
  • Make efficient and effective decisions in the face of more scrutiny.

Leadership lessons from best practice methods

Effective leadership in project and programme management requires all of the above leadership qualities and transferable skills – for both project managers and the project board – along with best practice principles.

For example, achieving Practitioner level in PRINCE2® gives project management professionals the confidence to handle change initiatives with a recognized method. And, for the project board, having at least a PRINCE2 Foundation-level understanding gives them a clear idea of how change is happening in the organization and how to support the project manager.

Consequently, this enables board members to make more confident, efficient and effective decisions while building their own credibility and working relationships with project and programme managers.

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Comments

22 Aug 2021 Hendrik Moller
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The pandemic has forced all companies to review a lot of their internal structures ( some reviews was done kicking and screaming) but this forced a lot of changes in general and I find that more employees is now more accepting of changes than before.
4 Sep 2021 Mansour
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The"new normal" introduced lot changes on how businesses and service will will run at least in the immediate future, accordingly new way of people interactions both internally and with customer
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