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Six ways to strengthen your project leadership capability in 2021

Blog posted by: Nick Hubbard, 01 Feb 2021.

Leadership And Team

Many of us will have started the new year with a commitment to increase our exercise and eat more healthily. Similarly, most organisations will have made resolutions to improve their performance, for example by strengthening their project management capability.

Having a strong suite of tools and procedures is all well and good, but increasingly organisations are recognising that the capability of their people is the primary factor in ensuring successful project delivery. Typically, this capability revolves around those colleagues operating in the role of project or programme manager, and those operating in an assistant or controller type role.

Many organisations already have a structured programme for improving that capability; others are thinking about introducing one. Either way, there are usually several core elements that increase your chances of achieving a successful and sustainable development programme. Here are my six ways to strengthen your project leadership capability in 2021.  

1. Secure strong sponsorship

Just like any project, your development programme will benefit enormously from strong sponsorship. This should sit with a recognised leader in the business, whose role clearly and directly benefits from the success of any such programme. They will ensure that the programme aligns with the organisation’s vision and strategy and will set its direction and priorities. They can also help champion important messages among key stakeholders as required.

2. Define your career path for project management

Whether project management is recognised as a distinct career path in your organisation or not, you can still set out what is expected in terms of experience, grade and/or qualifications for a given project role in relation to the type, size and complexity of your organisation’s projects. This doesn’t need to be complicated, and ideally it will include descriptions of the expected personal attributes and soft skills required at each stage. APM’s Competence Framework is an excellent resource and toolkit for helping you establish such a framework and is relevant across all sectors and organisations, regardless of their project management maturity.

3. Provide learning opportunities

We all recognise that most learning is done on the job. However, learning activities (both formal and informal) are essential to compliment and accelerate this ongoing learning. Providing a learning framework doesn’t need to be time-consuming or expensive (think of all that course preparation and delivery!). Assigning mentors or organising ‘in conversation’ webinars between internal subject-matter experts can be easy and will be highly valued. The COVID-19 crisis has in many ways helped organisations; by moving away from classroom learning and transforming it into virtual, more accessible forms, there is greater flexibility for how and when employees tap into learning. Be creative, particularly when developing remote learning, and don’t be afraid to provide a blend of different events.

4. Seek those with a passion for projects

Leading or trying to organise an internal development programme can sometime be a lonely endeavour. Seek out those with experience and a shared passion for ‘raising the project management bar’ within your organisation. Often, you will find more people willing to volunteer than you expected – whether it be as mentors, trainers or helping review and improve internal processes and tools. Establishing communities of practice within the business can create more momentum in strengthening project management and support the transition.

5. Communicate, communicate, communicate

If you’ve identified a community of like-minded individuals and your organisation is starting to make headway with various initiatives, then make sure everyone is aware of the progress and create what I like to describe as ‘an infectious energy’. You needn’t limit it to internal channels; encourage your colleagues to share their thoughts, successes and experiences externally, via social media or articles in industry periodicals such as ProjectThis creates a collective pride and self-confidence among your own staff, and it sends a powerful message to prospective future talent about your organisational commitment to strong project management.

6. Invest in the resources that will keep all of the above moving

None of this magically appears by default. Having resource dedicated to making this all happen is essential. The level of resource made available must be relevant to the size of organisation; it would not be sensible to have someone dedicated full-time in a 12-person consultancy. But it is important to make sure that resource is freed up, no matter what proportion of their time is allocated, to make things happen.

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About the Aurthor

Nick Hubbard is UK head of business excellence at global engineering consultancy WSP, where he leads the Strengthening Project Leadership programme


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