The project manager as coach

Yesterday, I attended a really useful workshop in London about coaching and project management.  It was run by the Association for Project Management ( People special interest group.

There is a distinction between being a manager delegating work, mentoring a junior (or apprentice) and being a coach.  I heard this expressed as “Someone being mentored can ask their mentor how they did it and get a real case study back.  A coach shouldn’t answer”. (Regrettably, I can’t credit the speaker because I didn’t see who that was – if I find out, I’ll edit this).

That made me think how often I coach and how often I mentor. (I probably mentor 70% of the time). Part of that is because I work with people who don’t have the answers to the questions their project is asking of them – they’ve called me in because I have.  However, coaching helps people get to the answers themselves when the right questions ae asked: it gives better long-term results.

That reminds me of something I learnt as a trainer: less than 30% of a training session should be giving information if learning is to be effective. Practical experience and appropriate questioning does the rest.

I also discovered that the London Olympics project managers have access to coaches in the same way the athletes they work. Their managers believe that coaches are making a difference by improving understanding and helping the project teams find better ways to reach their goals. It is worth noting that the building projects are delivering ahead of schedule – there must be something special happening there.

As a project manager are you directive, mentoring or coaching most of the time?

If you are directive, could you coach others to be better able to do their tasks with less supervision? Can you develop them, build their skills and trust between you, and reduce some of the pressure on you the project manager?

A project is an organisation. If you were CEO would you be the cult personality who makes things happen by pushing or the CEO who gets the best out of his team by using their talents?

The project manager as coach empowers and enables the team to work.  They have the opportunity to take pride in their work. Combined that will improve quality and work rate. 

If you could improve performance by 10% (and some research suggests 30%) in any other way would you do it? So why not try coaching? It might seem “pink and fluffy” but it can be a business tool that gives focus to the project’s objective and engages the team.


About 3triangles
Helping organisations make change happen in 3 key areas: strategic change, deliver tactical impacts, efficient and effective processes. All blog content (c) 2009 - 2012 Carol Long and Three Triangles Performance Ltd

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