The rise of the super project manager

Written by Eddie Kilkelly on 24 June 2015

Business transformation is everywhere as increasingly after a long lean period, we are finding the resources and enthusiasm to deliver more change than ever before.  The world is moving at pace and failing to keep up with change in any industry sector means that we are effectively going backwards. Similarly, modern project management is increasingly complex. In addition to an ever-increasing rate of change many of our projects cut across functions, geographies and cultures and interface with multiple systems and processes.

This necessitates additional layers of governance and hierarchy that in turn leads to a wider community of stakeholders who can be both internal and external to the organisation. When you add legislative requirements, media interest in performance, environmental constraints, corporate social responsibility it is easy to see how complexity has replaced technology as the biggest challenge in project management. Added to this, business agility is highly sought after enabling us to respond quickly to change and introduce new capabilities to manage them.

This is changing the role of the project manager who now requires super (or at least very different) powers to deal with this range of complexities. The super project manager is here!

Becoming a super hero

Most project managers will say that they drifted into project management in an unplanned way on their journey to become a super project manager. It wasn’t necessarily a conscious career choice. 

There are generally three identifiable stages of developing a super project manager, transforming a project manager with foundation-level project management skills and knowledge to someone capable of taking a leading role in major transformational change initiative across the organisation.

Firstly, at the lowest level the individual will undertake some low level process training most often in PRINCE2® the worlds most popular project management method. This will give them a clear understanding of the sequence of steps needed to launch, control and complete a project and will enable them to contribute to a project initiative and lead work-streams and small project-style initiatives.

Secondly, after a few years of experience, gaining knowledge and competence, the project manager will lead a self-contained functional project and this will bring financial and team responsibilities. The project manager will perhaps join a professional association such as the Association for Project Management and will extend their professional qualifications further.

Finally, the super project manager will take full accountability for delivering a highly complex cross-functional project or programme and the role they will undertake will require a very different skillset. Instead of process and product delivery, stakeholder engagement becomes much more important as does having a network of trusted advisors. Organisational politics have to be contended with and increasingly the super project manager will find themselves leading rather than managing.

Making this final transition from management into leadership is not easy and may not be for everyone. The temptation to remain in your comfort zone of technical product delivery is high and yet delivering outputs to specification is not sufficient to warrant a success.  The super project manager has to ensure that the business is ready and to ensure that any environmental changes that could derail the change are considered, planned for and mitigated.

Business acumen will be necessary together with political astuteness, as the super project manager has to “sell” the vision and bring people along on the journey.  Emotional intelligence will be key to this success both in terms of self-awareness and relationship management. In spite of this, in 2014, Vanson Bourne found that 42 per cent of project managers surveyed recognised that complex delivery across multiple locations and cultures was among their biggest challenges and yet only one in five was being helped to develop their emotional intelligence.

Saving Gotham city

Achieving organisational effectiveness requires a re-set. Emotionally intelligent organisations put working relationships above technical ability allowing the team to understand each other and develop capability faster. A well-known nutritional business undertakes a full personality profile for every member of staff when they join the organisation. This allows people to understand each other and how best to engage with each person.  This is shared openly throughout the business.

Associations such as the Association for Project Management value and measure behavioural competence as well as technical competence and recognise that a pure focus on delivery is not enough to succeed. Public sector project leaders (because project leadership is what we are talking about) are measured on their behaviours as much as their ability to deliver their objectives.

Organisational change can only be delivered through people. People who identify the change, people who deliver the capability and people who make effective use of it.  People who are interdependent and who work effectively together. The super project manager must work well with all of them.

 

Eddie Kilkelly is founder and managing director at insynergi, a provider of bespoke coaching, mentoring and training support. Insynergi Ltd is part of the Outsource Education Group.

 

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