Understand the difference between leading and micro-managing projects

Project managers (or, for that matter, portfolio and programme managers) clearly need to be adept at managing people.

Managing a team with a range of skills and personalities is challenging enough yet into the mix projects throw management of tasks, risks, interdependencies, budget, schedule and resources to name but a few. For project managers, especially those who have moved up the career ladder in the same company or industry and have industry-specific knowledge, there’s a temptation to get involved in the nitty-gritty and drift from leading their team to micro-managing. Yet, the best project managers are those who step back from the coal face, trust their team and become inspirational leaders.

the difference between leading and micro-managingSo how do you ensure you are “leading” the project and not “micro-managing”? First by recognising the difference…

The problem with micro-managing

Micromanaging takes a couple of different forms: either doing the actual work assigned to one of your team or checking every small detail of a piece of work. This can take up time the project manager doesn’t have to spare, or should be spending on other tasks. What’s more, people won’t feel trusted to do a good job and will become demotivated and potentially resentful of the project manager. This management style can quickly affect a whole team and we all know the most successful, productive teams are the well-motivated teams so a manager should be doing everything possible to boost morale not create a motivational issue.

Employees who don’t feel trusted to do a job well will not take ownership of a task and, ironically, that can lead to more mistakes. It can also result in a lack of confidence in team members and an unwillingness to learn.

Micromanaging is a common mistake in project management but teams still need to be supervised for delivering tasks on-time and to the required quality. That means project managers must show encouragement and support, and be there to help out with unexpected issues that might arise. So it’s a fine line between micromanaging and neglect!

Building trust

An effective project leader will always be absolutely clear about the responsibilities of team members and wider expectations for individual tasks and the project as a whole. They will clearly define goals, milestones and deadlines so the whole team is in no doubt about the impact of failing to deliver; but will also offer support where needed. Most importantly they will have the right project management skills to ensure they can provide the tools, resources, documentation and anything else necessary to complete the work.

Try not to impose a set way of working – some people (self-starters in particular) may have their own preferred way of working – but be prepared to offer guidance where needed. Being clear about expectations and providing the necessary tools, but then letting people get on with their assigned tasks, will go a long way to building trust and mutual respect within the team.

Accountability is not the same as micro-managing

While micromanaging should be avoided and trusting relationships built, a project leader cannot guarantee that every member of the team will pull his or her weight – even in the best led team. So all team members need to share equally in the individual and collective burden of work and the resulting rewards. That means all team members need to be held accountable for completing the tasks to which they’ve been assigned. The project manager should monitor and track the progress of individual tasks and address problems with individual team members who are not completing tasks in line with expectations.

Making sure individuals take responsibility for the work assigned to them and complete it to the required standards and deadlines is not the same as micro-managing. So when any problems arise with quality or timeliness of delivery the project manager needs to address that. Failing to hold people accountable will result either in problems with the project delivery or other teams members bearing more than their fair share of the burden. Either way it will result in resentment festering and leading to low team morale.

In summary…

The most successful project managers lead by example – they trust the team to deliver but establish clear responsibilities and measurable goals. They ensure the necessary tools and resources are available, and, if required, they help resolve problems with progress by holding individuals accountable without micro-managing.