Project management has been described to be both an art and a science. The science part is easy. The typical project manager tracks numbers and statistics for a week and regurgitates the information to the next layer of management. Project managers track estimates for tasks, comparing them to actual durations, to calculate project variance.

A majority of people would probably assume that project management is more of a science after viewing the amount of numerical and tactical work they perform. The reality is that a project manager needs to use both sides of the brain to be successful. The statistical analysis cannot be ignored. In order to report status, facts and figures must be used to paint an accurate picture.
However, if the project manager expects to influence the results of those statistics, he must assume strategic leadership skills to become a strategic project leader. No area of project management is better explained by this as in the relationships a project leader develops and nurtures throughout the life of the project and beyond.

Relationship with the business team
It is important for a project leader to understand the business. It is difficult–perhaps impossible–to make or influence decisions without an intimate knowledge of the business around which the project is centered. Such knowledge allows the project leader to speak intelligently with the business people being served and to gain credibility with that team.
A strong project leader also needs to know and understand the individual business people. It is important to know what motivates them and influences their decision making. This knowledge helps from two aspects: First, it endears the project leader to the business folks. This adds to the project leader’s credibility as well as endears the business team to the project leader. It transcends a business relationship to a personal relationship. Secondly, knowing the motivations of the individuals on the business team allows the project leader to customize arguments in the right light. For instance, if a manager on the business side has incentives to grow market share, as opposed to maximizing profits, the project leader can offer arguments that are focused on that goal.

Relationship with the project team
A project manager interacts with each team member on a daily basis, tracking status and redirecting tasks whenever necessary. A project leader develops relationships with the individuals on the project team. Having a personal relationship with each team member allows the project leader to understand the team member from a personal aspect.
One way to do that is a weekly one-on-one meeting. Holding a 15- to 30-minute meeting each week forces the project leader and each individual to set aside some time to sit down and talk. It should not be a status update on the project. It should consist of monitoring the team member’s morale on the project. If there are things bothering the team member about the project, this is an excellent forum for them to bring such issues up, without having to schedule a special meeting for it.

Personal questions about the individual are acceptable, such as, “How was your weekend? Do you have any plans for the weekend?” It gives both individuals a chance to get to know each other on a more personal level. It is important not to delve into too personal or delicate issues unless the team member wants to bring them up voluntarily.

Developing a stronger relationship with each team member helps to improve morale and productivity. It also allows them to bring up issues and risks on a project that might not have been otherwise aired.

Relationship with vendors
A typical project leader may deal with many outside vendors during the life of a project. Hardware vendors for computer equipment, software vendors and contractors offering services are the most common. A project manager may take a tactical approach. Project budgets can be tight. Getting the best deal from a vendor can provide the project manager latitude to spend more on additional needs for the project. A project leader will develop relationships with vendors. A strategic relationship with each vendor allows the vendor to understand the project’s needs at a deeper level. This allows them to provide a better match of products and resources, allowing the project team to be more productive.

For instance, if project manager tells a vendor about a need for a Java software developer at a specified rate, that vendor will perform a search of all available Java developers with those rates. A project leader may meet with the vendor and explain the project goals and purpose. The specific responsibilities of the Java developer are explained. The vendor develops a trusting relationship with the project leader and has a more vested interest in the project’s success.
Developing a relationship with the project’s vendors also creates a long-term relationship that will affect other projects down the road.

Relationship with other project leaders
Leading a project at both the tactical and strategic levels is a time-consuming job. In addition to all of the relationship building within the project, a project leader needs to also get out and meet with other project managers.
Experience is a great teacher, but to continuously learn and grow, a project leader must share stories with others. A great way to do this is to join a professional organization that meets regularly. There are many online forums that provide great ways to interact with others. Online forums should not completely replace the benefits of face-to-face communication. Interacting with other project managers provides a new perspective on issues and problems from people who may have experienced similar problems. It also provides moral support, knowing that other people deal with some of the same issues on a daily basis.

A project manager tends to deal with tactical reporting aspects of a project. A project leader complements that analysis by developing strategic relationships with daily interactions to increase quality and productivity on the project.

Lew Sauder is a PMP certified project manager who has worked most of his career as a consultant with top-tier and boutique consulting firms. He is the author of Consulting 101: 101 Tips for Success in Consulting, Project Management 101: 101 Tips for Success in Project Management and co-author of The Reluctant Mentor. Follow him on Twitter @LewSauder.