Project Success: Considering Leadership

Eric Verzuh, in his book The Portable MBA in Project Management, states that
“The discipline of project managing can lead us astray. It can make it appear that anyone who learns the discipline will be able to lead successful projects. It is impossible to manage projects with just organized documentation. Although the methods and mechanics involved in project management are important, they are not sufficient (Verzuh pp 12-13).
Verzuh continues to explain why successful project managers are, first and foremost.
This has been a constant truth throughout my years of training and consulting. No matter how well-informed or inept a person is about project management, success in project managing is determined by their leadership qualities, rather than their organizational skills or knowledge.
It can be difficult to consult on project managing when the problem is primarily a leadership problem. How do you approach your client to say “I’m sorry. Your problem has less to do project management and more with leadership.” If you offend their judgment, you could lose your job and be fired. This type of change can be more difficult and uncomfortable because it might require a change in personnel, an organizational change, or a policy or procedure change. While any of these may be uncomfortable, most often it is a combination or a combination of several of these issues or other changes.
If an organization truly wants to improve its project management, they should be open to the possibility that poor leadership could be the main reason for poor project management. Most managers will blame poor leadership or the lack of the proper tools (such a PM software program) for poor project management. To get “buy-in,” they go looking for more people and different software. This will invariably stall criticisms in favor of “change.” This should really be called a “cover-up.”
Leadership is not always a problem. Most companies struggle to distinguish between a “management” and a leadership issue. What tools should a company use in order to identify the type of problem they are facing? What would be fair for all parties?
I don’t suggest that leadership and management should be separated. There is a difference between them. I do suggest that any analysis of project management must include/consider leadership. Only then can the right perspective be gathered and decisions made about what needs to change.