It's a Project Manager's World Newsletter with Dr. James Brown
      February, 2014 Full Moon Edition      

Program Manager Leadership Traits - Presence

Presence is often a requirement and a sought-after trait for executives. Some executive coaches teach presence, as it is usually a factor organizations consider when selecting future leaders. Unfortunately, many people mistakenly undervalue the importance of presence. A human resources director for a leading telecommunications company once told me she is always looking internally at the company’s high achievers and top performers.  The ones with presence are put on the fast track.

What is Presence?

For our purposes, we will define presence as the ability to appear or outwardly demonstrate the characteristics of a leader. Right or wrong, just or unjust, people judge us immediately so appearance, body language and voice all matter.  They then validate their judgment based on personal interaction and performance.

The program manager is the very symbol of the program and all of the leader’s actions reflect outwardly and inwardly on the program itself.

  • Outward reflection is the perception the program manager creates with external stakeholders. Therefore, the program manager must create and manage perception and not leave it to chance, because external stakeholders, such as customers, other business units, and organizational leadership often judge the program manager’s behaviors. Others must perceive the program manager as a leader who is in control of the program and receptive to the needs of external stakeholders. If this perception is lacking, external stakeholders may attempt to work around the program manager and thus undermine his or her authority, limiting the program manager’s effectiveness.
  • Inward reflection is the perception the program manager creates internal to the program, and those internal to the program tend to copy the behaviors. So if the program manager effectively employs the other traits described in this chapter, then he or she is in effect instilling these traits into the organization, and this can pay huge dividends, including minimizing the amount of intervention the program manager must make at lower levels and projects because his or her subordinates are already executing in a manner the program manager finds successful.   

Ultimately, leaders want their organizations to be self-regulating, as such an organization allows the leader time to focus on the more demanding challenges and opportunities while the organization “self-regulates” the majority of activities. Often the program manager misses opportunities because he or she is too bogged down dealing with issues in the program that should be self-regulating. Some program managers never excel because they cannot release control of the day-to-day activities that should be self-regulating.

Self-regulation takes time to create, but it is the ultimate definition of presence. With self-regulation, the organization acts and performs just like the program manager would want it to even if he or she is not present. The program team intrinsically thinks like the program manager, and everyone knows what is expected of them.

Reprinted from The Handbook of Program Management

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