Project Management is an art and a science. Most of the practice areas in which we apply our art and science are indeed science-oriented: Pharmaceuticals, IT, Telecom, Research, Medical Devices, and Data Science. In all cases, we need to manage projects – and make decisions – based on fact, based on truth. At times, authorities in power seek to alter the truth to suit their own narrative.
It’s at these times when we need leadership. We need to listen to leaders, be inspired by leadership, and act like leaders. And project managers are nothing if not leaders. We do need to do the hard work of speaking truth to power, even when, as often is the case, we are not at the top of the hierarchy.
It’s in this vein today that we honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on the celebration of his birthday, and this short post is about speaking truth to power, illustrated by one example I found recently in Nature magazine. They had a feature article called “Natures 10”, covering 10 people who ‘mattered in science’ in 2019. The first person featured was Ricardo Galvão (pictured below).
Credit: Micah B. Rubin for Nature
From the story:
On 19 July, Brazil’s leader, Jair Bolsonaro, lashed out against a report on deforestation by Galvão’s team at the National Institute for Space Research (INPE) in São Paulo. The group’s analysis had incited the president’s wrath because it found a sharp spike in forest clearing in the Amazon. The president accused the scientists of lying about the data and suggested that Galvão — as head of the institute — might be in cahoots with environmentalists. The 72-year-old fusion physicist was stunned by the accusation. “My wife had to bring me a glass of water,” he says.
Rather than rush to react, Galvão gave himself 12 hours to craft a response. After a nearly sleepless night, he spoke out in defence of INPE scientists. He also accused the president of cowardice and called for a face-to-face meeting — acts that he knew would lead to him losing his job. What he didn’t know was that he would become a hero of sorts, hailed by his scientific colleagues as well as by strangers on the streets. A woman even stopped him on the subway in São Paulo to thank him for standing up to Bolsonaro and helping her to understand why preserving the Amazon matters.
Galvão lost his job. He was dismissed two weeks after he defended INPE, just as the burning season kicked off in the Amazon where farmers light fires as the last step in clearing the land for agriculture.
NPE’s latest numbers, released on 18 November, show that an estimated 9,762 kilometres of land — an area larger than Puerto Rico — was cleared in less than one year - between August 2018 and July 2019. That is an increase of 30% over the previous year, and more than twice the area cleared in 2012.
This was indeed something which deserved (and still deserves!) some speaking of truth.
Galvão now works at University of São Paulo where he continues his work from that perspective. From the article:
After receiving messages from fellow scientists thanking him for speaking out, however, he realized that he has a responsibility to continue to advocate on behalf of science — and scientists — in the face of political pressure. “I’m just a humble old man who works in physics,” Galvão says. “But I decided to go on for this reason.”
Let’s return to Dr. King. Although Dr. King was assassinated before the environmental movement really gained momentum, he was speaking about and inspiring action on the environment.
MLK: It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one destiny, affects all indirectly.
In a speech given by then US Attorney General Eric Holder in 2011, Holder said:
“Dr. King did not have the chance to witness the impact of the movement he began. But he left us with the creed that continues to guide our work. His enduring words – which he penned from a Birmingham jail cell – still remind us that, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
This truth was understood – and honored – by the coalitions of activists who rallied against hazardous waste dumps near African-American communities in the 1970s and ‘80s. Their activism helped to drive updates in our environmental laws. President Clinton’s 1994 Executive Order – which required each federal agency to address environmental justice in minority and low-income populations – was also an important step forward. And the work that the EPA and the Department of Justice have led to ensure that our environmental laws and protections extend to all people – regardless of race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status – has strengthened this tradition of progress.”
How does this come back to project management? Take a look at the exposure draft of the 7th Edition PMBOK® Guide. You will see that The Standard for Project Management now includes Project Delivery Principles – and the first one listed is Stewardship. It’s in this section that you will now see guidance for us as project leaders that we should be speaking truth to power.
From the exposure draft:
Being a steward entails acting responsibly to carry out activities with integrity, care,
and loyalty while maintaining compliance with internal and external regulations. Stewards demonstrate a broad commitment to care for financial, social, and environmental resources.
You (yes you, Mr. or Ms. Project Manager!) can help here by going to the 7th Edition Exposure Draft and commenting on this Stewardship principle. Support it. Strengthen it. PMI is now listening to your comments! Go to http://pmi.org and navigate to PMBOK® Guide and Standards, About Standards, Get Involved With Standards. You will need to log in to PMI to have access to the Exposure Draft.
Take inspiration from leaders like Galvão and King. Speak truth to power in your projects. When you see something “wrong”, speak up and object. When you see something done “right”, reward that behavior. Have a Truthy Dream.