There seems to be an abundance of recent research and published information on leadership in organizations these days.  Ironically, however, during the same time that the old method of listing and evaluating “attributes” of leadership has yielded to the critical examination of actual behavior in significant leadership scenarios, there have been fundamental breakdowns in basic leadership in some highly respected public and private organizations.  Much of the recent research and writing has focused on these breakdowns and their underlying causes.

Many of us have observed both good and bad leadership in evolving PMO settings and I am sure we have stopped to think “Now, what could have caused that particular outcome……especially when it seemed that everything was moving according to plan for that project or program?”  In order to avoid such breakdowns in your PMO, let’s consider which criterion contribute to the emergence of key leaders in the Program Management Office (PMO).  In particular, in this blog I want to address how, in the evolutionary stages of your PMO, you can identify the leaders who will ensure the success of the PMO at steady state. 

Now, please understand that achieving a “steady state“, in the sense of systems and process, may be an ideal situation that each of us hopes to achieve for their PMO.  In actual fact, “change” will always be the norm and leaders will have to respond to “change” in innovative and insightful ways.

In my experience working in an IT Project Office, and in a PMO and helping develop several other PMOs from “grass roots,” I have had the opportunity to work with some remarkable Project Managers and PMO Infrastructure Managers at the inception stage, the developing stage, at partial maturity, and at full blown maturity.  As a result, I have had a chance to compare my observations with the emerging leadership literature.  Make no mistake….these observations are not intended to be exhaustive and complete.  But they should help us to develop a PMO Leadership Model which we can continue to build on as we collectively view more behaviors in PMO settings.

Here is a list of characteristics for emerging leaders in a PMO:

1.  Calculated Risk Taking Attitude:  In my experience working with PMOs, those project managers and project team members who displayed a risk-taking attitude in two key areas were most often the individuals who rose to leadership positions.  First, those project managers who volunteered for the high risk projects because of a “can do” attitude were often the emerging leaders.  Second, when I was directing the development of project lessons learned for a Breakfast Forum in which the project manager addressed the PMO project community about some key lessons from his or her project, those project managers who stepped forward and volunteered for the Breakfast Forums were most likely the ones to rise to leadership positions.  In fact, the first five project manager volunteers became leaders and formal group managers.  So, if you are a PMO developer, look for the “risk takers,” while recognizing that I am talking exclusively about calculated risk taking.

2.  “Commitment” vs. “Compliance” Perspective:  In every PMO, and especially in those that are in the start-up mode, there is a range of attitudes toward the mission, vision, and values of the PMO organization.  At one end of the spectrum is “compliance,” the condition in which a person complies with the processes, standards, and procedures of the PMO, but doesn’t really buy into the overall mission.  These individuals most often come from “operationally” oriented positions which relied on “making a daily list of things to do”.  They often developed a work plan for a certain period of time which was rather inflexible in its components.  On the opposite extreme of the spectrum is “commitment,” a condition in which a person is totally committed to the mission, vision, and values of the PMO even though he or she might not be the most competent project manager in the organization, and even if the direction of the PMO has not yet been established with much certainty.  In my experience working with an IT Project Office and several PMOs, those persons who were “committed” and who demonstrated that “commitment” were most often the individuals who rose to leadership positions.

3.  Effectiveness Through Dialogue and Influence:  In every organization–at all levels of the organization–there are individuals who distinguish themselves by being extremely effective at getting things done through Dialogue and Influence.  These are exactly the people who were the object of research by VitalSmarts (which resulted in such books as Crucial Conversations, Crucial Confrontations and Influencer.)  They are the same people that William Bridges talked about in his book Job Shift who, when faced with rapid or unrelenting change in their organizations, developed the ability to successfully take on the roles requiring negotiations, brokering, translating, collaborating, facilitating, etc.

4.  Performance Focus:  In every organization, there are individuals at all levels whose attention to management of their own performance–and that of their teams–goes beyond what is required of their individual organization’s formal Performance Management Process.  These individuals typically set realistic goals and objectives and measure the outcomes at intervals, making course corrections where necessary based upon feedback and metrics.   These people are conspicuous and stick out in every organization.  They are “authentic” and “genuine” about their beliefs in performance management.  And they rise to leadership roles in a PMO setting.

5.  Formal vs. Informal:  We have all recognized for years that the most visible structures in organizations are those organization’s “formal” structures.  Organizations are made up of organization charts, processes, standards, and procedures, as well as the underlying principles of efficiency, scalability, predictability, controlling influences; clear, disciplined, hierarchies; and rationality.  But some recent research by Jon Katzenbach and Zia Khan, entitled Leading Outside the Lines , has identified an “informal” character of organizations that may be just as powerful at influencing organizational performance as the “formal” aspects.   The “informal” consists of loosely defined networks, communities of individuals with like interests.  These communication and information flow mechanisms are far from formal; rather, they are adaptable, local, innovative, ambiguous, spontaneous, collaborative, and emotional.  Individuals who know how to tap into the “informal” structures in the organizations can be leaders too.  In another blog post, I mentioned a very successful project manager of a very large SAP project who recognized that his project was “integrated” tightly with two or three other projects which were scheduled to complete just before his project.  He spent a considerable amount of time ensuring that those other projects had the resources and guidance necessary for their completion because he recognized the invaluable nature of their input and information  flow to his own project.  Now, he could have relied on formal Project Review Meetings to stress to all concerned the importance of their delivery, but he instead he focused on the “informal networks” of cooperation and collaboration to gain “commitment” from everyone that all projects would be successfully delivered.   That effort showed true leadership skills.

You will immediately notice that some of these characteristics pertain to project competency, and some pertain to business and personal competencies.  This is consistent with those Project Management Competency models such as the Boston University PM Competency Model, which stresses not only PMBOK competencies but also Personal and Business leadership attributes.

As you look around your PMO, notice the behaviors of project managers and team members who are  “authentic” and “genuine” and who live the values of the PMO every day.  Through good project experiences and difficult project experiences, there will be many who stand out in the crowd and become the ongoing leaders of the PMO. 

Your comments to this post are welcome.

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