Women in PM Leadership

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We'll explore the lessons, traits, characteristics and opinions of women serving in leadership positions in the project management profession. Join the conversation!

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Brantlee Underhill
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Marcela Terzi
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Viewing Posts by Brantlee Underhill

What Are Your Hard Knocks?

On 9 October, I facilitated a panel discussion with Beth Partleton, PMP, Debbie O’Bray (PMI Fellow), Marge Combe and Yanping Chen MD, PhD, PMP (PMI Fellow) at PMI’s Leadership Institute Meeting in Orlando, Florida. These former PMI Board Members shared how they got their start in project management, and also how they were introduced to PMI and came to lead in volunteer roles eventually serving at PMI’s highest levels. While it was emphasized that women and men participating on project teams are “more often alike than not,” the audience leaned in to know what diminutive or limiting behaviors they have seen their female colleagues (or themselves) engage in that lessened the effectiveness of women practitioners. Here are a few said during the discussion.

  • “My problem is….I don’t take credit for my work. I am collaborative.” When talking about accomplishments, there is an appropriate time to talk about team contributions and individual effort. Let’s say you are interviewing for a job. The hiring manager is likely going to want to know what you are capable of, what credits you have to your name, and what kind of team player you are. Distinguish yourself on all these points by using an appropriate mix of “I” and “We” in your summarizations. Describe yourself as an involved team member as well as a standout project lead.  
  • “My problem is….my colleagues don’t respect my position and authority when I speak up.” Yes, you are speaking up! Not always easy to do in some environments. Now, how do you deliver your message? Debbie described a colleague who would end her sentences with an upward swing in her intonation, sounding as if she was asking a question rather than issuing a statement. Speak with confidence and authority, be yourself, and use a tone and intonation that doesn’t invite your colleagues to question whether you are sure what you said.
  • “In the beginning, I enjoyed a collegial relationship with my older colleague. Now, we aren’t so close. How can I work with someone who views me as fierce and competitive?” This scenario highlights the challenges and opportunities of multiple generations in the workplace. More senior and tenured staff usually earn and command the role of mentor to newer and younger colleagues. Then one day, the younger colleague who has caught on quickly maybe doesn’t see as great a need for her senior coworker.  How to keep peace in the workplace? The panelists shared that they enjoy being asked about their experiences. Younger colleagues, ask your seasoned co-workers, “What have you learned in your time here? What were your hard knocks? What mistakes can I avoid?” Listen and absorb, and some details about your organizational culture will likely emerge as well.

What behaviors have you personally witnessed – either for yourself or for your female counterparts – where colleagues have given up opportunities to impress their knowledge and skill? Or what behaviors have you seen to be quite effective in female practitioners you have worked with?

Posted by Brantlee Underhill on: October 23, 2015 07:42 AM | Permalink | Comments (11)

Introduction to Women in PM Leadership

One of the great benefits of getting involved in PMI, especially as a volunteer, is the confidence that is built through demonstrated leadership experiences. Recently I’ve been interviewing panelists and preparing for an upcoming discussion on Women in Leadership at PMI’s North American Leadership Institute Meeting in Orlando.  Former PMI Board Members Beth Partleton, PMP, Debbie O’Bray (PMI Fellow), Marge Combe, and Yanping Chen MD, PhD, PMP (PMI Fellow) will take the executive chairs to share insights into how volunteering has accelerated their leadership ability not only in PMI but also in their “day jobs” as senior executives.

Combined, they have over 90 years of PMI membership experience, joining the PMI organization in the early 1990s. Professionally they come from every background imaginable – from architecture to civil engineering, financial services to telecommunications, and even medicine (Yanping started her career as a cardiologist)!  In the span of their work, they have come to recognize that skills and intellect may be the “price of admission” for a blossoming career, but an aptitude in emotional intelligence is what makes for success. “In order to grow and advance, the skills that are going to count include self-awareness, empathy for others, compassion and emotional maturity,” Beth tells me. In a later post, I’ll share with you their thoughts on what separates the women from the men when it comes to emotional intelligence.

What I have come to value in preparing for this panel discussion with these senior executives is the wealth of their wisdom - each has played coach and mentor to new and experienced co-workers and direct reports. Debbie shared that age and generation play a big part in these kind of interactions. Younger people come to her for advice because they don’t know the answers while more seasoned leaders come to talk because they are comfortable with her and themselves. The generation in between is more reserved - “perhaps they hold some fear that they are expected to know something they don’t, so they don’t ask,” Debbie says. 

I look forward to introducing you to these women and their experiences over the next few posts. In the meantime, what do you want to know about their experiences as female leaders in project management? And if you are that “in between” generation (i.e. Generation X), how do you seek out mentoring and coaching advice? Or . . .  don’t you? Would love to hear your reactions and real world experiences!

Posted by Brantlee Underhill on: September 24, 2015 10:22 AM | Permalink | Comments (8)
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