Growing project management leaders

Our series of articles on the war for project management talent continues with the idea that organisations should be growing their own leaders – to reduce the need to find new talent externally and also to ensure that current employees are recognised, supported and developed.

Project managers, by and large, already demonstrate leadership skills in their everyday work and they are already given opportunities to demonstrate this capability on a day-to-day basis. The difference, in relation to talent management, is how project managers can be great leaders – not just good, and how this leadership can be applied to senior roles within the business, not just within projects.

There will always be differences in where a project manager wants to take their career.

Some will be happy working at a senior project level, others making the steps to programme management and portfolio management. Others will have their eye on business lead roles like heads of departments or board levels.

An organisation who wants to keep their talented project managers should have a clearer idea of the paths that interest their PMs through regular performance reviews and 1-2-1 with line managers. The question is, what can an organisation do to make these aspirations work?

To be a great leader, an organisation has to give its employees the challenges – the opportunity to be in different situations, with different people and with more complex objectives to achieve. The organisation also has to do this in a supportive way – recognising that throwing employees into the deep end without the support of, say mentors or development aides could lead to disaster.

twitter-birdFor project managers to become senior project managers, more complex and high-profile projects to manage is the obvious route to take. For other career paths it becomes much more complex.

Just this morning via Twitter, the progression from Project Manager to Programme Manager was being discussed.

The conversation went something like this:

Me: One of the hardest aspect of Programme v Project Mgmt is knowing that I won’t ‘know’ every detail of all the projects…

Bob: That’s the point thought isn’t it? As a Prg Manager, you have to TRUST your PM’s to do the job right

Me: And that’s the problem sometimes isn’t it? Especially if you’re new to the programme game

Bob: Yep, combination of being new and not feeling in control of environment

Me: It’s an interesting point just how much the role changes – expectation that it should be seamless?

Bob: Yes, but orgs dont pay enough attention to ‘training’ Prg Managers, PM’s just expected to know it and step up

Me: you mean that there is actually some training around? not seen anything other than MSP

Bob: Good point, maybe that’s an opp for one of us to produce a training course 🙂


The same can be said about making the move from projects and programmes into portfolios – just because a talented manager excels in their current position it doesn’t necessarily mean taking the next steps up can be done seamlessly without support and development in new posts.

For project professionals that have their eye on senior level positions outside the realms of project management it is generally agreed that they bring a substantial skill set with them although what remains unclear is what do they need in addition to this skill set to become a great business leader?

Part of the answer will depend on the organisation – what do THEY need in their top senior managers? Once this is understood, a future leaders career package can be put together that combines skills development, mentoring, identification of opportunities, special projects instigated, even a sabbatical to help future leaders learn the ropes.

In the next final article on talent management we’ll look at the need for organisations to differentiate between top performers and low performers.




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