In this blog we hear from Richard Fechner, Global Advisory Leader at GHD about how you can empower your team.

Using the old adage that you manage things and lead people, effective project delivery is more about leadership than it is management.

Throughout my career, I have always noticed the difference in projects that are delivered by a motivated and accountable team, regardless of the sector, be it defence, engineering or commercial advisory. Accountability is the:

  • responsibility to act;
  • commitment to do the right thing and stand by decisions; and
  • a quality that must come from within.

Leading a project team means the buck stops with us. We need to set the tone, not just through our words, but our actions. The 7 features below of what a motivated and accountable team looks like are based on my reflections gained over 30 years in project leadership.

1. Individuals choose their approach to meet expectations

This is something that I learned while working in the Army. The directive control approach means team members have the flexibility to choose their approach to meeting expectations. Take the time to discuss with each team member what their understanding of your expectations are to ensure alignment and monitor and provide guidance on what they could do differently if they fall behind.

2. Each team member has clear ownership of responsibility

Prime responsibility is with the individual team members to successfully deliver and as a leader it is your responsibility to clarify that you are available as a support, coach and advisor. Consider the old sporting analogy of a champion team rather than a team of champions. It’s also important as a leader to confirm acknowledgement of responsibility with the team member.

3. The leader takes a step back when the team starts to get it right

Getting it right comprises a balance between self confidence, motivation and competence. Be the judge on when this balance is achieved and allow team members to continue autonomously.

4. Issues are escalated early

Where service from other groups, project participants, suppliers is not as agreed, having a team with the courage to escalate removes surprises. I know red wine can improve with age, but project issues generally do not. Raising issues early highlights a blind spot in others, and can save the day, if not just the schedule or budget.

5. The team works together to find solutions

While the project leader may have valid experience, if senior staff always step down and solve every problem, it creates dependency. Providing guidance and encouraging the team to propose solutions promotes accountability.

6. Focus is put on the thinking process, not the details

Building on tip 5, I have found that open questions to the team are far more confidence building, so questions such as: What have you tried, considered? What might be a solution/ course of action? or Where could you get that information? are really effective.

7. The leader recognises and acknowledges

Encourage along the way and recognise when expectations/goals are met. This will result in:

  • Reduced stress for leaders, because you can count on your people
  • ​More time to focus on strategic tasks
  • Improved productivity of the whole team
  • Empowered team with improved engagement and confidence
  • Trust and respect among team members
  • Succession and development for the business