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Is Project “Management” the Problem?

How do you define the difference between “management” and “leadership”?

Some folks say that managers focus on doing things right, while leaders are focused on doing the right things. And managers try to accomplish a goal with the resources at their disposal, while leaders go looking for new goals and acquire new resources to support them. Right? Right.

Well, we sure do hear a lot about project “management” these days, don’t we? Since projects have become so important in every facet of the business, I think it’s great to see companies training people on how to use project management tools and techniques. And certification programs, especially those from PMI, are now required for many project management jobs. And I think that’s great, too. Really.

But who leads projects? When, where, and how do we train executives to be successful as project leaders? Unfortunately, the answer is that most executives learn about project leadership the hard way, through experience. And in the words of folk singer Gamble Rogers, “Experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you really wanted.”

That’s a shame, because project leadership is a discipline that can be taught. And the cost of learning through study is a bargain compared to the cost of learning through failure. For the student, and especially for their employer!

A leader is responsible for sponsoring projects that will deliver value for the organization. And the key to doing this consistently is to focus on six simple principles that are easy to remember using the acronym DIRECT:

  • Define the vision
  • Investigate the options
  • Resolve to a course of action
  • Execute the plan
  • Change the system and processes
  • Transition the people

I call this model the “DIRECT Project Leadership Framework” and it’s a great way to remember the most important responsibilities of a project leader. If a project team is addressing each of these elements effectively, then the odds are really good that they will be successful.

A DIRECT Framework is also a great tool for diagnosing the challenges facing a project and prescribing appropriate solutions, which is where project management tools and techniques come in. A leader can ask themselves questions like, “Did we clearly define the vision?” “Have we thoroughly investigated our options?” And if the answer to any of these questions is “no” then you can draw on the tools in your project management toolkit to get ahead of a problem before it puts your project — and your team — in jeopardy.

Project management is useful, but project leadership is critical. Effective project leadership is all about being DIRECT. If you remember these six principles and apply them to your projects, I guarantee that you and your teams will be more successful!


Energized by tackling complex challenges and implementing innovative solutions. This article was first published on Daniel Stanton is a supply chain and project management leader with a passion for building high-performing talent and teams.


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