Project Manager as a Coach and Mentor
Sasi Kumar

These days a project manager's role involves a whole lot more than being a connecting point for various project components. A new generation project manager is a 'Renaissance man,' a polymath, with a variety of skills and proficiency in different subjects who can play various roles.

It is true that project managers play crucial roles that demand much more than proficiency in managing projects. They require skill sets to supplement their leadership, teambuilding, and relationship abilities. Decisions a project manager takes are not self-contained but affect many in the team. Thus, the project manager occupies center stage and plays a pivotal role in managing interpersonal conflicts, team cohesion, stakeholder management, and other major and minor hurdles that crop up on the project's path.

Project managers who spend a significant amount of time to coach and mentor their team members on project related issues and issues related to people-to-people interactions could expect positive results. Thus, an opportunity to coach and mentor is an opportunity to lessen the impact of conflicts, and the lack of passion and interest in the team.

  •     improve knowledge levels of team members to develop their potential
  •     challenge and encourage team members
  •     isolate deficiencies facing the team
  •     clear confusion and ambiguity
  •     motivate and inspire the team
  •     improve relationships and team cohesion
  •     improve individual and team performance
  •     set common goals
  •     help to manage stakeholder relationships more effectively by engaging them

Coaching Strengthens Team Communication

The two-way communication during coaching helps to keep the project manager and the team on top of the issues that face the project. It helps to gain the confidence of the team and reach out to others to gather their inputs. It improves the engagement level. Effective listening skills can challenge and encourage team members to share ideas. Coaching helps the project manager to become a mediator, thus mitigating conflicts in a skilful manner.

Coaching is Leading by Example

Coaching encourages the project manager to lead by example. Coaching is a genuine process that elevates the project manager's stature within the team. Coaching creates, "I make a difference," feel in the project manager's outlook. From the project manager's perspective, coaching and mentoring help to realize many benefits. The project manager also develops good listening skills and is able to understand team dynamics in a new light. The interaction further encourages credible behaviors from both sides and helps the project manager to recognize positive performances. As the project manager gets to know the team, the project manager's behavior becomes more equitable and inclusive.

Coaching is Win-Win

Coaching builds credibility and trust. Trust also needs authentic and genuine words and deeds, and credible actions. Trust is the founding block of all relationships. Relationships in turn solidify team cohesion. According to Richard Barrett, thought leader on the evolution of human values in business and society, trust occurs due to character and competence as they are the products of intent, integrity, capability, and results. He further elaborates that the project manager should establish the intent through open, caring, transparent behavior, and show integrity through authentic, fair, and honest dealings. The project manager should also have the knowledge, experience, and skills (i.e. capabilities) to form trust. Thus, credible deeds, apt performance, and positive reputation will solidify trust.

A poster recently caught my eye that said, "Mentoring means changing lives, including your own." That brings me to a poem by Will Allen Dromgoole titled, "The Bridge Builder." Its message of mentorship has served me well over the years and is a great example for all of us to emulate. It is all about 'building bridges' i.e. creating relationships via trust, and thus exemplifying leadership. A further interpretation of the poem by author John Boe states, "Bridge builders mentor without concern for personal gain or credit. They don't build bridges for the sake of recognition or tribute; they build because it's in their nature to encourage and support others." Being a coach and a mentor helps the project manager to educate, guide, appreciate, and encourage team members. Consequently, a project manager also learns through the process, by observing, seeking feedbacks, and learning from team members. Thus, it helps to fine-tune a project manager's leadership skills and achieve greater personal satisfaction.

(Sasi Kumar, PMP, is an information technology and project management professional.)

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