Peanut butter and chocolate

May 25, 2017

Don’t expect your PMs to be great leaders just because they are competent professionals. They need training and practice to be effective.

Like peanut butter and chocolate; peas and carrots; Bert and Ernie. Project management and leadership go hand-in-hand in the AEC industry. A PM without effective leadership skills is like a Tootsie Pop without the Tootsie Roll center – hollow and lacking an essential core.

How well an architect, engineer, or consultant performs in a PM role largely depends on how well they can lead and inspire others. Poor leadership directly correlates with late and over-budget projects, something you’ve probably seen. How are your projects doing under the guidance of your lowest performing PMs? I’m sure you know the answer.

Promoting or moving someone into a project management position requires more than just a new business card. It requires a proactive effort on the part of the firm’s senior leaders to ensure all PMs are equipped with the skills needed to succeed in completing the firm’s work.

I often wonder if people assume we’re all born with the gift of leadership; that we all have this magical, innate skill we can just tap into anytime it’s needed. To say we’re born with the ability to lead others is akin to saying we’re born to be professional athletes. The truth is, like great athletes, great leaders have to study and practice. Sure, some of the needed skills should be born into us, such as being nice to everyone and clearly communicating with others, but oftentimes they’re not.

Don’t assume that just because your professionals have been around a while that they know what it takes to be high-performing PMs. And don’t assume they’ll know what to do when they receive that tap on the shoulder telling them it’s their turn to take the baton.

Set your project managers on the path to success by ensuring they’ve received training in the essential leadership skills every project manager should possess:

  • Communication. Great project managers know how to talk with people. Not to people, but with them. They know how to inspire confidence and gain the trust of others. They must also be comfortable speaking to groups of strangers. Help them overcome the natural fear of public speaking by having them give a presentation in front of a group of your firm’s employees.
  • Business development. As a professional service firm, you must be able to sell all your services. Are your project managers aware of every service your firm provides? Can they sell those services to their current clients? If not, consider sending your team through a business development training course where they can learn how to be better “doer-sellers.” They need to know how to offer solutions to your clients across multiple fronts.
  • Decision making. Project managers have to make tough decisions and have uncomfortable conversations. Give them the authority to make things happen. Like an over-bearing parent, over-involved principals are not helping their PMs grow. Give them the training, the tools, the people, and then let them lead.
  • Fungibility. Change is inevitable in this industry. If it weren’t, there wouldn’t be thousands of articles on scope creep. Great project managers are nimble enough to adapt to any situation that may arise during a project. They’re calm under pressure and are able to break problems into smaller chunks so their teams can more easily solve them.

Leadership is the vital element in all successful companies and it’s an especially important characteristic of successful PMs. Good project managers can usually get things done as expected. Excellent project managers are leaders who inspire their teams to accomplish the things others thought were impossible. Like peanut butter and chocolate, leadership and project management make a perfect combination.

Consider attending one or both seminars on project management and leadership skills for AEC professionals to ensure success in both areas. Click here for PM seminar and click here for leadership seminar.

Bill Murphey is Zweig Group’s director of education. Contact him at

This article is from issue 1196 of The Zweig Letter. Interested in more management advice every week from Mark Zweig, the Zweig Group team, and a talented list of other guest writers? Click here to subscribe or get a free trial of The Zweig Letter.

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.