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Leaders as a catalyst for project success

Ahead of APM’s Power of Projects conference taking place on 9 June, Chief Executive Professor Adam Boddison talks about how leaders can give project professionals the support they need and the benefits this will bring.

Thinking about the most significant problems facing society, one of the common factors linking them is that projects are required to realise the solutions.

The volume and complexity of the issues facing society are such that the world must be equipped with enough qualified project professionals to make the necessary impact.

However, it’s business leaders who are arguably the true catalyst for the project profession. In some cases, these leaders are themselves project professionals, or they at least have a good understanding of the project profession, which means they recognise the importance of their role as an architect for facilitating project success.

However, too many leaders are unfamiliar with the project profession. As a result, they fail to create an environment in which projects have the best chance of success. For those who want to support project professionals and maximise their impact, here are three key areas they should seriously consider:

1. Give project professionals the same status as marketing, finance and HR professionals

For those working in marketing, finance and HR, their status as professionals is broadly accepted and appreciated by leaders. Their professional expertise is well understood and valued, and generally these areas will constitute departments within an organisation.

Unfortunately, the same cannot always be said for project professionals, who are too often attached to another area of a business rather than being recognised as a professional department in their own right. This issue is exacerbated by MBA programmes, which seem to be broadly dominated by curricula centred on finance, marketing and HR as the three core functions. The argument sometimes made for this is that every leader is likely to have to deal with finance, marketing and HR in their role.

While this is true, the reality is that every leader is likely to have to deal with projects too.

2. Ensure that project professionals can have a strategic influence at executive board level, for example, by having a Chief Project Officer or Chief Transformation Officer

One of the challenges sometimes facing project professionals is having to retrospectively unpick decisions made in the boardroom, or to work around them, to ensure that projects are delivered successfully. This issue can easily arise if project professionals are not able to influence strategic decision‑making because their role is incorrectly seen by leaders as being purely operational.

This phenomenon isn’t unique to the project profession. Twenty‑five years ago, marketing professionals faced a similar issue. Decisions were made in the boardroom and the marketers were then informed what actions they needed to take. Fast‑forward to the present day and marketing is now at the heart of strategic decision‑making.

Chief Marketing Officers are often in the boardroom as key strategic leaders, and this should be replicated with Chief Project Officers. At the very least, any project professionals in the organisation should have a mechanism for contributing to strategic decision‑making.

3.Be alert to those who may be ‘accidental project professionals’

In some organisations, leaders may not realise they have any project professionals, because it’s not immediately evident from their job titles. It’s essential for leaders to be on the lookout for those who become part of the project profession without realising it, since it is then possible to support their development with targeted training and by becoming part of a relevant professional community of peers. Similarly, this will support project professionals to secure recognition for their achievements, e.g. through chartered status.

Whether you’re a project professional or a leader (or both), it’s in your interests for the projects in your organisation to be delivered successfully. It is time to ensure that all leaders in your organisation understand their role as a catalyst for the project profession.

APM’s flagship conference, Power of Projects, will take place on Thursday 9 June at the Park Plaza London Riverbank, London, focusing on the key themes of leadership, sustainability and diversity.

Keynote speakers will include Catherine Green OBE, Manufacturing Lead, Oxford AstraZeneca Vaccine and Ellie Orton OBE, Chief Executive, NHS Charities Together. Book your place here.

  • Discounts on tickets are available for Individual APM members and employees of APM Corporate Partners.

This was posted in Bdaily's Members' News section by APM .

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