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I have been on multiple projects where the project leaders have not involved themselves in the project enough to even learn what the project is really doing. Other times the project leaders didn't even schedule progress sessions throughout the project. One of the worst experiences I had is where I (as a developer) kept the project on track, ended up getting the team to produce an implementation plan and then executed that implementation plan by myself.

My question is, how do I hold a project leaders feet to the fire without offending? I have been bitten in the past for being too honest with my feelings when project leaders drop the ball (like not recording requirements changes and then having to discuss the same things multiple times... or helping write extremely poor requirements in the first place).

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    What are the things that your project leader does well? – CodeWorks Apr 12 '12 at 13:03
  • Perhaps you could provide a little more organizational background? Is the project leader analagous to a project manager or more to a development manager? What is the over all role of a project leader, as defined by the company? Understanding this would help a lot to provide suggestions. – Joel Bancroft-Connors Apr 12 '12 at 18:08
  • @CodeWorks If you are suggesting this is more of an attitude issue I may partially agree but there is more to it then that. I think it may be more of an expectations issue, in that I am expecting the best out of each person and when they continually drop the ball I feel frustration because they impact my performance & productivity by doing so. – dbobrowski Apr 13 '12 at 13:45
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The consistent factor across all the projects is you. Your behavior is currently enabling theirs.

You're using negative language to describe what's happening, but I wonder - do the project managers even know that you don't enjoy picking up after them? A lot of project managers delegate responsibility, and if they're ever overworked this may be the right thing to do. Have you told them that you don't enjoy it?

Rather than phrasing it as "dropping the ball", I'd ask what balls they're juggling. You might find that requirements and implementation is the least of their worries. Perhaps they're about to lose their whole budget, or the department is looking at making redundancies, or the main stakeholder who was interested in the project in the first place has left. If they're not busy managing the project, what are they doing?

I've often found it useful to give feedback to project managers by asking for help. Instead of phrasing it as "Here's what I need from you," you can ask, "How can I help you more effectively, given that XYZ keeps happening?" You could also do this by running weekly or bi-weekly retrospectives, which will bring up common issues the team is facing and avoid the situation where one strong voice overrides the rest.

Also consider that you have an opportunity here. If you're backing up the project managers and might enjoy it in different circumstances, maybe you could just ask for more recognition of that.

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When there is a void in leadership, the remaining team will fill it in some way, sometimes smoothly, other times after a bit of disruption, but it either will be filled or the team will implode.

If your leadership has distanced itself from the project activities, then take it as a signal that they are prepared for a new leader to emerge. I suggest you be that person.

However, you asking this question makes me infer that perhaps you do not feel ready for that role, in which case you need to let your boss know that the team needs his closer guidance.

If you are ready, then go for it. Lead the team, learn new skills, get promoted, retire.

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  • This is good advice - while I enjoy leadership, I do not think I am ready to do both my development responsibilities and project leadership responsibilities all at the same time. I feel these are two seperate full time jobs. – dbobrowski Apr 13 '12 at 13:42
  • @dbobrowski I think the suggestion was that you go into a full time project manager role rather than trying to maintain two roles. – Burhan Ali Apr 16 '12 at 5:35
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How do I hold a project leader's feet to the fire without offending?

  1. Don't try and tackle this publicly (at first), you will end up grabbing him by the tail!

  2. Hold an honest 1:1 chat with him, explaining that his lack of leadership/vision is causing this, this, and this to the project.

  3. Don't get personal.

  4. Explain that the team and other younger people are looking up to him or her as a leader and this is what they are missing/expecting from him or her. Realization!

If the situation is still not salvageable, then I would suggest working towards putting your weight behind getting a replacement.

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  • #2 is exactly what I would like to do - but a honest conversation is quite difficult to have anymore it seems... everything has to be sugar coated to the nth degree and tip toe around what is said or offense may be taken. Granted I don't like to be bashed, but in the past when people have told me honestly where I have made a mistake I try to take it well and use it to improve. – dbobrowski Apr 13 '12 at 13:50
  • I was dinged recently for saying in an email that "the requirements change we discussed in a meeting should have been recorded in the requirements document" This was interpreted as "Telling the project leader what to do" and I was told they likely took offense to this line. – dbobrowski Apr 13 '12 at 13:51
  • I think ,given the circumstance your relationship/situation seems make or break . This makes the weapon of an honest chat even more potent and imperative – the_reluctant_tester Apr 13 '12 at 23:31
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You will have to first figure out whether it is a problem with the individual (project lead) or it's an organizational issue. If it's just the lead, start with a personal 1-1 session (as suggested by @the_reluctant_tester) and give honest feedback about what the consequences can be for lack of his engagement. If you can take a lead role to fill in the leadership void, consider this as part of that. If that does not work out, talking to the lead's boss is the second option.

If it's an organizational level issue, then really you can't do much other than raising it appropriately at different levels and just making sure that you are getting your part done.

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Use the carrot and stick approach - Pick up a small issue that would not hurt him too much, and specifically ask him to take care of it. If he shows proper leadership and resolves the issue, or even shows good leadership with some other issue, give him a couple of compliments without being condescending, something like, "You showed good leadership they way you handled so and so issue"

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  • Praise the work rather than the person. It's easier to not sound condescending that way. Also it's often a little odd if people you are supposed to be managing/leading are giving you a pat on the back for doing a good job. – Burhan Ali Apr 16 '12 at 21:26

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