Who is Your First Chair?

Filed under Leadership | Posted by MMeloni

“An orchestra full of stars can be a disaster.” – Kurt Masur

An orchestra has a conductor and a first chair or concertmaster. There is considerable recognition and prestige that come with being the conductor or with being the first chair. In dysfunctional situations, each might consider his or herself to be the star of the orchestra. It is not their job to be stars. It is their job to be leaders. All of the recognition and prestige come with responsibility. And the conductor and the first chair must be able to collaborate with one another. The first chair may have to step in on behalf of the conductor. The conductor must trust the first chair to set an example of excellence for the rest of the orchestra.

A project team has you, the project manager. Using the orchestra as an analogy, YOU are the conductor. Who is your first chair? If you have an official team lead or project supervisor, this person SHOULD be your first chair. Your first chair is the person you would trust to be your backup AND the person your team trusts as a leader. Who is the person your team goes to when you are not around? This is your first chair. If the person you trust and the person the team prefers to go to are NOT the same people, you have a problem. Get to know the person the team members trust and understand what it is your team members see in this person.

Don’t have the first chair? Seek one out. Find that person on the team who others look up to and build a good collaborative relationship. As the project manager, you are not the project star. Neither is your first chair. Together your job is to keep the entire team on track, working toward the same goal. When the team sees the two of you together it builds their confidence and their trust. Your collaboration encourages their collaboration. You and your first chair model the working relationships you wish to see. The two of you do not need to behave like stars or divas; you need to show the team that a professional work ethic and integrity are what make you leaders.