How do you become a good program leader? What do you need to know about influence, “politicking”, and getting the job done?

Over the past “20x” years I’ve noticed a key distinction between program leaders that deliver results and the ones that don’t.

There are program leaders that are very smart, know their process, know their business, know their clients, and understand technology. They do an excellent job of reporting on how things are going and writing status documents.

Then there are program leaders that take the crucial extra step of doing something about the problems, of proactively seeing them coming, and working with the people in the project to fix them.

To put some context around this, I’ve had program & project managers tell me “the house is on fire,” and others tell me “we contained the fire to one room, and the fire trucks are on their way.”

Some come from large organisations with long, complex projects and seem to think they are really good at project management – having come from such a prestigious company – and “managing” a large team and budget. In reality, they are just really good at telling people “the house is on fire”.

Great Project Leaders take the crucial extra step of doing something about the problems instead of just reporting them.

Leadership and management are ultimately about being able to get things done. Your skills and qualities as a leader help you to achieve the project goals and objectives. One of the most effective ways to do this is through the use of influence as one of the key elements of politics.

Influence and politics are probably the most important topics in program management, but at the same time, they’re one of the least discussed subjects. Each organisation I’ve been involved with has worked differently, and the better you understand how the organisation works, the more likely it is that you will be successful.

Politics can be associated with false promises, backstabbing, alliances and manipulating others. But the worst weakness of politics is its failure to deliver on its promises. Time and time again we see public politicians or business leaders failing to deliver the change they promise. And we as program leaders can fall into this trap as well.

On the other hand, your influence is the ability to get others to do the work (or actions) you want regardless of their desires.

When we think of all the program & project managers who have responsibility without authority, who must elicit support by influence and not by command authority, then we can see why influence is one of the most important traits to have in your project management kit bag.

Influence can originate from the individual or from the organisation. It is often supported by other people’s perceptions of the leader. It is essential for you to be aware of your relationships with other people, as relationships enable you to get things done on the project.

There are numerous forms of influence at the disposal of program leaders, but using them can be complex given their nature and the various factors at play in a project.

Key forms of influence can include (keep in mind not all of these are good or acceptable traits ;-):

  1. Positional 
  2. Informational 
  3. Referent 
  4. Situational 
  5. Personal or charismatic
  6. Relational 
  7. Expert 
  8. Reward-oriented 
  9. Punitive 
  10. Ingratiating 
  11. Pressure-based
  12. Guilt-based
  13. Persuasive
  14. Avoiding

Effective project leaders work to understand the politics inside their organisation, and are proactive and intentional when it comes to influencing. These leaders will work to acquire the influence and authority they need within the boundaries of the organisation’s policies, protocols, and procedures rather than take it or wait for it to granted, or not given at all.

How can we help?

Talk to us about how we can help your organisation lead your project to success. Making it real is what we do.

How can you connect with us?

We’d love to hear about your journey. Did reflecting on how you go about program leadership help?

Please select a relevant option

About the Author

Jason Novobranec is Implementary’s Chief Operating Officer.

With over 20 years of Consulting, Program Management & Senior Leadership experience, Jason has delivered initiatives for large multi-national / multi-regional organisations as well as SME’s and is an expert in shaping solutions to fit a customer’s project needs.