A Rose By Any Other Name… – by Vicki White
Project Manager? Team Leader? How do they relate?
While the Project Manager oversees and manages the big picture, the Team Leader deals with the nuts and bolts. By being more involved in the day to day work, the Team Leader also develops a more direct knowledge of the personalities of both the team members and the outside sources and conditions that may positively or negatively impact the end product.
Having had the experience of working in both positions in a large corporation, I can speak with some confidence as to the differences and similarities between the two.
As a team leader I was an integral, working member of the team. I was their first “line of defense” and the buffer between them and the project manager and the stakeholders. It was my job to keep them on track, to praise when needed and to escalate issues when it appeared deliverables may be impacted. I felt it was very important, particularly as a woman in a technical field at that time, to maintain a “just one of the guys” attitude with my team. This made it easier for them to be comfortable coming to me with issues. It was my responsibility to make sure the issues were escalated to the Project Manager and also to suggest possible ways in which they could be resolved and determine the cost, if any, associated with those resolutions.
I knew the strengths and weaknesses of each of my team members. Who would enjoy and excel at a knotty problem. Who could quickly crank out code. Who got bored once a solution was found and was then eager to go to the next challenge. Who hid their lack of confidence by using jargon in meetings with the stakeholders. With this knowledge I could juggle and monitor assignments to allow them to excel in their tasks, increasing the likelihood for overall project success.
By knowing and treating the team members as individuals, as people, the team developed a tightly knit bond which was evident in their production.
As a team leader I was still able to remain “in the trenches”, helping with debugging, overseeing testing, and picking up some coding when needed.
Once in the Project Manager role my concentration was on the bigger picture of the entire project’s progress. The Team Leader dealt with the “nuts and bolts” and had more one-on-one contact with each member of the team. While I relied on the Team Leader to identify issues and escalate them to me, it was ultimately my responsibility to make sure the team had what was needed to keep the project moving in a positive direction, whether it was answers from another area or additional personnel.
Sometimes a Project Manager may not have the hands on skill set that a Team Leader most likely has and as a result needs to rely on the Team Leader’s knowledge of the team’s makeup and the individuals’ strengths and weaknesses. Developing trust and confidence in the Team Leader is crucial to a successful project.
Returning to the earlier question of how do they relate? Using a very simplified football analogy, the Team Leader is the quarterback and the Project Manager is the head coach. Both must exhibit leadership to different degrees and in different areas to lead the team to success.