Are You a Servant Web Project Manager?

Published on July 25, 2013 by
Servant Leadership

Servant leadership is a management style that works great for Web Project Managers. Web teams thrive under such leaders because team members' ideas are listened to, play a crucial role in the project development process and their contributions are valued and rewarded. In a recent #PMChat session there was consensus among the participating project managers that the Servant Leadership style is the preferred approach, so why are there so few Servant Web Project Managers?

Servant leadership was originally defined by Robert K. Greenleaf in his 1970 essay, "The Servant as Leader," (Wikipedia) Over the years, this leadership style has evolved into an approach that stresses the Web Project Manager's role is to make the team successful. If individuals on the team are successful, the projects will be judged successes, the team will be successful and the Web Project Manager will be successful. Therefore, the Web Project Manager does whatever they can to support the team members and ensure their success.

7 Ways a Servant Web Project Manager Supports Their Web Team

1. The Servant Web PM conducts participatory meetings where information is shared with the team and their ideas sought.

There is considerable skill needed to handle this well. The Web PM must be a facilitator who, when group consensus does not emerge naturally, offers a solution which everyone may not endorse. Mature team members will value the fact the Web PM solicited and listened to everyone's opinion even if their suggested is not the one they personally prefer. Team members who seek to flatter and please the Web PM as a way of advancement will struggle in these situations. In reality though, if the Web PM is good, they are able to steer the team to the best solution. They aren't selling some preconceived plan, but using the group discussion to truly devise the best solution possible given the time, money and resource constraints.

2. The Servant Web PM works hard to develop trust between themselves and the team.

The Servant PM doesn't second-guess the team's decisions, but respects the team member's skills and knowledge. Micromanagers cannot pull off a servant leadership style. However, if team members are deceitful, passive-aggressive or vicious gossipers the team will be unable to function under this approach and the Web PM may have to abandon the Servant leadership style until a culture of trust can be established. This may require the replacement of disruptive team members who prefer to blame their shortcomings on others, rather than work to improve their skills.

3. The Servant Web PM takes the time to know team members.

What are their career goals? What additional training do they need/want? What tools do they need to be successful? Will they need additional outside help in terms of sub-contractors or part-time help on a complicated project? The Web PM cannot always secure everything individual team member needs for a specific project, but knowing the team member's needs enables the Web PM to make every effort to secure these resources over time. Of course the team member has to be able to anticipate and articulate their needs to the Web PM.

4. Servant Web Project Managers identify their replacement or backup.

Once the savvy Web Project Manager knows the career goals of their staff they work to get their team members an opportunity to develop the skills required to achieve those goals. In the process the Web PM is on the lookout for anyone who has shown leadership skills and will approach that person to discuss any interest in leading as well. They then provide opportunities for that person to lead the group from time to time. The Servant Web PM knows that one of their primary responsibilities to their group is to make sure if something happens to them, there is someone on the team with the skills to step in and continue as Web PM to ensure the team's success.

5. The Servant Web Project Manager is always balancing the short-term with the long-term.

One of the first things a new Servant Web Project Manager will do is create a group long-term strategy plan. This plan may include an analysis of existing staff and a financial business case for adding new team members to reduce costs, stress and long working hours for staff, preventing burnout. The plan might review the reputation of the team and include a plan for improving how the rest of the organization interacts with the team. Whatever improvements can be made to help the team succeed would be in this document, which the Web PM revises annually. The document is created with team inputs, discussed with the team and then reviewed by the team so everyone is in agreement on the goals.

6. The Servant Web Project Manager does not take credit for the team's work but highlights and promotes the success of individuals.

Credit is given publicly for innovative ideas. The team members are encouraged to present the team's work in organization-wide meetings. This approach works best when team members are comfortable and secure enough to cheer on their colleagues. Insecure team members struggle as every compliment to another team member is seen as a slight against them.

7. The Servant Web Project Manager pitches in to help the group however they can.

No job, no matter how mundane is beneath them, nor do they worry about what is or isn't in their job description. They don't look for blame and they don't tolerate finger pointing on the team. What matters most is not the mistake but how the team can fix the mistake. Team members coming from a hierarchical management style often feel uncomfortable and initially distrust the Web PM for not condemning the person who erred, unable to see that some day they may be the one who will make a mistake. Some people will be angry that the Servant Web PM "ignores" errors, not understanding that the mistakes are noted, but only to help a team member avoid them in the future.

Servant Web Project Managers Are Not Appreciated or Even Rewarded for their Approach

Many Vice-Presidents, CEOs and Directors view the Servant Leadership style as evidence the Web Project Manager lacks backbone. This often comes up in performance reviews. Rather than see the benefits of getting a team to work together, to trust each other, to come forward with ideas for improvements, they often believe that the Web PM is shirking their duty of "keeping the team under control." Even when the team achieves its goals and is successful; even when projects meet deadlines and are within budget; even when stakeholders praise the team efforts, the PM can come under fire for not "telling the team what to do.

Team members themselves can feel uncomfortable in a participatory leadership style believing that the Web PM is including the team in discussions because the Web PM doesn't know what to do. One employee in a fit of frustration when asked their opinion, responded, "You are the manager, its your job to tell me what to do, not mine to tell you what we should be doing."

Servant leadership requires the Web PM to manage Web team members' expectations. Some team members will think because they have told you what they need, you as Web Project Manager are failing them if you don't secure everything they requested.


As a Servant Web Project Manager you can't count on pleasing everyone, but watch any servant carefully and you will see the really good ones realize it is their responsibility to persevere in the face of criticism. As Web Project Manager, as with any leadership position, in the end you put the interests of the entire team above the interests of a single member. (To quote Spock - the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one - especially the needs of the Web PM.) This is certainly true when managing Web teams. Contrary to popular belief, the Servant Leadership style is not for the timid or the incompetent, but if you have the fortitude to conduct this leadership style you will discover it does result in outstanding Web development work.


Leave a Comment