Interview With Project Leadership Coach – Susanne Madsen

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Susanne Madsen is a popular name in Project Management Community. She is a trainer, a consultant, a speaker and a coach. She has authored two famous project management publications: “The Power of Project Leadership” and “The Project Management Coaching Workbook”. She currently resides in London and is the founder and director of Susanne Madsen International Ltd. She has more than 17-years experience of working with world’s leading financial institutions such as Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase and Standard Bank. She is a member of Association of Project Management and is a certified MSP practitioner, PRINCE2 Practitioner and PRINCE2 foundation.

TaskQue: You are primarily focused on project management leadership. Can you please tell us what stimulated your interest in project management leadership? What was the source of inspiration?

Susanne: About 10 years into my career as a project manager I had a big aha moment when I received coaching for the first time. At this point in my career, I had been managing a large project for two years with over 45 team members and was nearing burnout. The one-2-one coaching session I received was a true Eureka moment because it helped me to see that I had a real choice in how I applied myself and how I managed my team. I realized that project managers need leadership – and that I needed it too! I was so inspired by my revelation that I began to study coaching and leadership and wrote my first book; The Project Management Coaching Workbook. The rest is history as they say.

TaskQue: What are the objectives of your company Susanne Madsen International Ltd? How do you contribute towards the organizational objectives?

Susanne: My goal is to help project managers transform into project leaders. It’s all well and good that project managers are task-oriented, logical and rational when they manage tasks, but when it comes to dealing with people they have to lead, not manage. Many project managers come from a technical background and don’t appreciate how important leadership and emotional intelligence is. My role is to help project managers gain self-awareness and to transform into leaders, either through one-2-one coaching sessions, leadership workshops or training courses. My latest book “The Power of Project Leadership” further assists people in making that transition.

TaskQue: You have worked on remote projects in the US, the UK and India. What challenges did you face in bridging the cultural gap?

Susanne: You know that’s an interesting question, which I’m asked a lot. For sure there are cultural differences, but it’s not something I’ve thought about in a conscious way. I’m so used to working with different cultures that it has become the norm rather than the exception. I would say that as long as you tune into people, listen, engage and try to see a situation from the other’s point of view, the cultural differences become insignificant because you are open towards each other and respect each other irrespective of what the differences are.

TaskQue: You have worked on different projects in different industries globally. What differences have you noticed in professionals’ approach in different regions of the world?

Susanne: I think we have to be careful not to stereotype people according to the region they come from. I recently went to Malaysia to help a team kick off a project and we seemed to be a perfect match for each other – in fact, I got on better with the Malaysian team than with some teams from the UK. I find that company culture varies enormously and often overrides the country culture. I also find the challenges that project managers talk about to be pretty much the same no matter where I go. PMs find it difficult to say no, they over promise, they struggle with tight deadlines, over-optimistic estimates, difficult stakeholder personalities and disengaged teams.

TaskQue: You have been mentoring, coaching, writing and consulting for the project management community for a long time. Surely, you would have met hundreds of people. Can you name some of the personalities that have inspired you?

Susanne: I regularly get inspired by people who I coach or by clients that I work for. People are so much more resourceful than they believe and I learn a lot by interacting with so many people from so many different industries across the globe. What truly inspires me is hearing about the results that my clients get by implementing what we have discussed. That’s what drives me. And every so often I come across a true like-minded soul who shares the same passions for project leadership and professional development as I do and those moments are truly magical.

TaskQue: You have been a speaker at various project management events. Which are the biggest events you have attended? Would you like to share some memorable experiences of speaking at project management events?

Susanne: Yes, I have spoken at quite a few events, not least for the PMI. I had the pleasure of presenting a full-day project leadership workshop for the PMI in Buffalo earlier in the year. It was a great experience with 120 people in the room wanting to learn – and practice – project leadership. I loved it! I also enjoy giving keynotes. In fact a few years back I was in the middle of my presentation at the RICS & APM Leadership Conference in London – and was talking about how many project managers spend too much time firefighting – when the fire alarm went off! As no one did anything I calmly asked everyone to leave the premises. We stood outside in the freezing cold for 10 minutes, and went back inside where I finished my presentation on time!

TaskQue: How can a project manager become a role model for the team?

Susanne: There are many ways in which a project manager can become a role model. One way is by making more space for others and by enabling everyone to contribute. We sometimes think that a strong project manager is someone who is forceful and can push the project forward and tell people what to do, but the more successful project manager is, in fact, someone who understands how to build great relationships of trust and get the most from people. We need more project managers who are great role models – and especially project managers who are emotionally intelligent.

TaskQue: How can project managers overcome resistance to change in their organizations?

Susanne: Resistance to change is a term we use when people seem unwilling to accept or help implement a change. But more often than not it isn’t the change itself that people resist. They resist because they believe they will lose something of value (such as status, belonging, or competence) or because they fear they will not be able to adapt to the new ways. To overcome this resistance, project managers have to understand and address the underlying emotions that people associate with change. It isn’t enough to just communicate more. They have to understand people’s psychology and the root cause of the skepticism. It’s when they focus on building trust and removing doubt and fear that resistance disappears. They can do that by slowing down the rate of change, creating dialogue, asking questions, showing empathy and allowing people to be part of the story.

TaskQue: How important are scrum meetings in your opinion? Many people claim that they are a waste of time. Do you agree with that?

Susanne: I think it depends entirely on the situation and the type of project. On some projects where the team doesn’t communicate enough – or where they spend too much time in unnecessarily long progress meetings – scrum meetings can add a lot of value, but it’s not for everyone.

TaskQue: Apart from your professional life, what are your hobbies and interests? Do you think that staying productive during work hours require getting involved in extra-curricular activities at weekends?

Susanne: I must say that because I work for myself and because I love what I do, my professional life and personal life tend to blend into one. Apart from my professional life, I am passionate about healthy living, exercise, and yoga which I try to practice daily. It’s important for everyone to find balance in what they do and to find time to recharge.

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