Fighting the Loneliness of Being a Project Leader

By Bob McGannon

We hear it from many of the people we work with and we have felt it as project leaders ourselves; being a leader can be lonely and at times, very lonely. Decisions need to be made, often in resolving conflict between the client and your team, or between team members. Financial accountability, often with aggressive goals for cost containment or product research needs, seems to fall squarely on your shoulders and yours alone.

Does this loneliness sound familiar?

Well, there is hope – but it requires a concerted effort to change from within.

This change requires a different viewpoint on the product you are producing, the team you work with, and your approach to the role of project leader.

The Product – Notice this doesn’t say your product. Although it indeed is a product that you are part of producing, the realization that it is a product of a group effort and not yours alone is significant. Will failure to execute on your behalf cause the product to be unsatisfactory (or nonexistent)? Most likely, yes. However, will the failure of other people on your team produce the same undesirable results? Again, most likely, yes. So what is the difference here? Why is it that the project leader feels the sense of loneliness?

In most projects, the difference is a matter of proximity and attention to the product. The project leader is normally given the mission to “get the job done” and is sent off (hopefully with a dedicated project sponsor) to accomplish the task at hand. This degree of independence is desirable to most project leaders. With this “get it done” mission, considerable attention is paid to the project by the project leader; the team members on your project team benefit from that management. Most project leaders do not desire additional attention be paid to them, as they view that is unnecessary. Ironically, the project leader feels a sense of loneliness due to the independence they strive for and desire! The realization that the lack of attention the project leader receives is a contributor to the “feeling alone” phenomena is paramount to overcoming the undesirable “lonely” feelings.

Considering this and analyzing your personal environment as a leader can reveal changes you can make, both procedurally and emotionally. Understand that the product is not yours, it is the teams, of which you are a member and have chosen to drive with independence. Should you feel a sense of loneliness, you can schedule a review with your manager or project sponsor. Review status, describe your remediation plans for any risks that have surfaced, demonstrate a prototype or other deliverables. Depending upon your working environment there are a number of things that can be done to obtain validation of your role and direction – overcoming the dread that manifests itself as loneliness. The Team – As with the product, your viewpoint as a project leader on the team you work with can significantly alter your state of mind. As the project leader aren’t you a member of the team with one of many distinct responsibilities that are required for the project to succeed? If the team is facing a challenge, how do you as the project leader go about solving it? If the team has reached a major milestone, how do you recognize this accomplishment? Alone? With the team? In some other fashion?

A leader who feels the need to overcome loneliness should examine how he/she interacts with the team. Although the project leader’s options depend on the personnel policies of the sponsoring organization, the project leader usually has a number of alternatives in approaching the team. With these options for involving the team, only the project leader who decides to do so will deal with project issues on his/her own. The project leader who takes the time to work with the team will face much fewer obstacles alone. Taking the time to spend at least 10 minutes each day having an informal but sincere conversation with a team member is a good way to sow dedication and loyalty. This will be paid back 10 times over when a problem occurs – these folks, seeing that you take the time to understand and care for them personally, will most likely be right by your side solving problems that may be encountered in the project. This approach also forms a bond that can be of use in future projects as well.

Another method for a leader to build team loyalty is in saying “thank you” for accomplishments your members achieve. Look for opportunities throughout the project to give a simple “pat on the back”, buy lunch, or utilize more formal recognition programs. These should not be considered simply as an “end of job” motivational tool. Doing these things – in recognizing genuine accomplishment – will build a unified team that will have a great likelihood of supporting you as a leader. As the saying goes, “catch your people doing something right”!

A team of people who feel genuinely cared for and supported by the project leader is a powerful – and unified – force that will solve a great percentage of problems. This unified approach to problem solving can be a major deterrent to your feelings of loneliness.

Your Leadership Approach – The project leader has to face a unique breadth of issues and responsibilities every day. How you go about handling the breadth of your job can make a huge difference in your teams approach and attitude when times get difficult. Project leaders have no choice but to be dependent on others. As the criticality and scope of the projects you lead increase, the need to depend upon others increases. This is a fact of life for the project leader. Rather than view this as a discouraging thing (although it can be distressing if you do not have confidence in the skills of a team member), view this as an opportunity to train and learn from others. Your team members will be a greater resource and you will be more familiar with the elements your team produces.

View your team members as 1) a resource to build upon, for this project and the next 2) a way to get things done and 3) the seeds for collaborative decision-making. The project leader is solely accountable for seeing that decisions are made. The smart project leader that is fully utilizing his/her team will use the skills of that team to its fullest in making those decisions. Take and believe in the approach of growing your team members, making them part of the problem solving in a collaborative manner, and showing genuine concern for your team; then watch the lonely periods of your position come less and less frequently.

Bob McGannon is a Founder and Principal of MINDAVATION, a motivational speaking, team building and leadership coaching company. MINDAVATION can be reached via the web at WWW.MINDAVATION.COM or by calling 877-544-MIND.


The Mindavation Foundation is proud to donate 5% of profits towards development of youth leaders.
Copyright © 2011 Mindavation - All rights reserved.