Project Management

Leadership in Project Management

This blog is meant to elaborate around leadership in the context of project management and discuss questions like What is leadership? What kind of leadership does project management need? Which role do values and ethics play in PM leadership? Examples of good practices in leadership. How to become a PM leader? My comments in this blog represent my own personal view and do not constitute any statement or information on behalf of PMI or the PMI Board of Directors.

About this Blog


Recent Posts

Reflections on 2018 and some scenarios for 2019 and beyond

Leadership and Portfolio Management

Artificial Intelligence and Project Leadership

Mentoring as a way to improve your Leadership capabilities

Inspirational Leadership and the role of a vision


artifical intelligence, Decision Making, Leadership, mentoring, talent triangle


Reflections on 2018 and some scenarios for 2019 and beyond

Some things that happened in project management in 2018

Project management has continued to grow and blossom in 2018, some examples:

1. The new PMI PMBoK Guide edition 6 is now a base for the PMP exam,

2. PMP certifications grew beyond 800 thousand.

3. In UK, APM achieved the charter status and starts to issue chartered project management certifications.

4. The new ISO 21508 standard on earned value was published. 

5. PMI’s economic snapshot states that economic instability and political risks lead the threat list by 36% and 23%, followed by disruptive technologies with only 10%

Hot topics in project management in 2018

Volunteering will grow as it is a way to practice leadership in a safe environment. A German survey states that unpaid work amounts to 39% of Germany‘s GDP in 2013. Society would not function without volunteers and economics is not all important. Volunteering in project management is special, in such as most professionals have at least a 2nd skill specialty, e.g. in construction, SW development or engineering. So - if you look for any skill, you can probably find it in the project management community. And before you try open-heart surgery in your business you might want to practice in a more forgiving and positive environment.

Training for a project management job continues to change. Still universities offer 3-4 years of education and companies send employees to classroom trainings for weeks. Malcom Gladwell’s 10000 hour rule is still followed, though disputed - it says you need 10000 hours until you become a professional expert in something.

On the other hand, and trying to accommodate VUCA, many more certifications which can be taken after a few days of study enter the market, and micro badges confirm that you passed a knowledge test, on-demand online training is possible due to globalization of knowledge.

But would you trust a pilot with only such credentials? Training for a job includes not only (explicit) knowledge transfer, but also practice (fail and learn) and obtaining tacit knowledge.

Both long term and short term training will be necessary, resulting in hybrid training strategies.

Global trend in project management in 2019

2019 is the 50th anniversary of PMI:
We will see a lot of new things from PMI, as the new strategy is further implemented and bears fruits. We will also see celebrations starting with the global volunteers planning session in January and culminating at the global conference in October. PMI will become more and more agile and customer-centric. One result is that PMI is striving to support project managers along their career beyond the PMP. The new online PM Edge offering is helping anybody to learn the language of project management and as such is an entry level to a career (try it!).

Project managers are here to stay: Some guesstimates say that almost 90 million people will work in roles oriented with project management in 2027. Still, with then 8 billion people on the globe, it is only a small group that handles then almost 50% of global budgets. With quick changes the number projects will increase to handle these changes.

Project management will continue to evolve in an ever quicker changing world. With the increased speed of changes, it is more difficult to trust in our projections, like what kind of car will be needed in 5 years, which size of airport do we plan for to open in 3 years, what app do we prefer to buy daily food? Agile and design thinking do not provide answers for WHAT we will get, they rather give us certainty in the ways HOW to reach the yet unknown what (and to adapt to changes along the journey). To be able to adapt, you need to develop resilience, otherwise one of these unexpected changes might kill your project or your career.

Besides the short and middle term political and economic threats, many more areas are changing in the long term, technology, AI, gaming, human influencing techniques to name a few. Project management will continue to provide certainty for all situations. As professionals we will do that for our sponsors, clients, teams.

Panta Rhei - be prepared to swim.

Posted on: December 17, 2018 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (12)

Leadership and Portfolio Management

Question: Are different Leadership styles necessary in the different roles that are described in project management:

  • single project management
  • program management
  • business analytics
  • portfolio management

Let us look at a portfolio manager. As a portfolio manager you are probably acting with more positional authority following governance policy and process that in the other roles. Your decision making may not be so dependent on a team working for you on the same target, but rather on other stakeholders in the organization, with different targets. Is it still useful to apply servant leadership?

Or is it more important to be able to negotiate, sell, build alliances - i.e. be a political savvy person and force others to accept decisions? Isn't there a danger to become bureaucratic by relying on the power that a governance position gives you?

What are your thoughts?

Posted on: November 04, 2016 10:09 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Artificial Intelligence and Project Leadership


How would a bunch of intelligent machines make stuff happen? 
Far fetched? Utopia? Do not think so.

How are military drones eliminating targets? Search - select - execute - confirm.
It is a time limited endeavor to achieve a unique result = a project.
There still may be some human decision makers involved today, or not. I do not know.

How are banks making decisions about - say - credit risks. They look for parameters from all kind of sources, big data, own databases, request data from other sources, calculate the risk, decide.
It is a time limited endeavor to achieve a unique result = a project.
There are probably no humans involved anymore. 

The three sides of PMI’s talent triangle are 
- technical PM (the processes, tools & techniques), 
- the business acumen (making business decisions and setting strategies) and 
- leadership. 

Let’s have look how these sides are being ’supported’ by intelligent machines, imagine a time-frame of 5-20 years:

Technical PM is prone to be taken over by systems, a process can be put into a workflow, results can be digitized and lesson learned can be used for self improvements. Who is calculating a critical path manually today? Could a system trigger work authorizations, check deliverables, analyze deviations from the plan? Yup.

Business acumen is meant to make business decisions, set strategies and objectives, observe the environment and respond to changes. Business decision ’support’ is here since decades, morphing into big data and analysis. Insurance companies, tax authorities, energy suppliers make decisions automatically without human intervention. Death of the white collar worker? Yup.

So, this leaves to the third side: 
Is there still leadership required for these kind of projects?
Do we still need emotional intelligence, conflict management, team building etc. when machines are making decisions and machines are implementing projects? 

Very interested in your thoughts.

Posted on: August 11, 2016 10:19 AM | Permalink | Comments (17)

Mentoring as a way to improve your Leadership capabilities

Categories: mentoring, Leadership

Imagine you are working on a project and make a mistake. If you are new to the subject matter or the project is complex, it is easy to make mistakes. Some say, you only learn by making mistakes yourself - and repairing them. You want to talk to someone about this situation.

Imagine, you are asked to run your first big project on yourself. Your colleagues are not able to help you as before. Your manager thinks you are the best person to take this challenge. Your client is looking to you what to do next.

Imagine, you run into a problem and have found a solution. Your team helped to find the solution, but in the end you all have the same background and understanding of the problem. You are still unsure if it is the best solution or even the right problem understanding.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have someone to discuss about your challenge? Get a feedback or at least a emphatic reply. See the wider context. Help with some advice. Obtain self confidence. Calm down emotions. Frame a problem differently. Maybe even talk to someone you do not have a relationship with.

Probably your partner and your friends really do not understand the language your are talking (Charter, Stakeholder, Scope, ..), so they often cannot help, even if they want.

A mentor from your profession can help.

Mentoring is the process to support you with someone (the Mentor) to discuss your professional matters. Optimally, the Mentor is not from your department or line hierarchy. He needs not to be a guru, but he should be at least one step ahead of you in the development. He could even come from outside the company but within your profession (I am still mentoring 2 people in a company I left 2 years ago). The mentor relationship is meant to endure for some time, may be a life time. The Mentor should be trusted and friendly, it is not a neutral relationship. Interpersonal chemistry plays a big role and there is no problem with ending a relationship from either side, if it does not match anymore.

The role of Mentor is modeled after a person called Mentor, who was a friend of Odysseus and adviser of Telemachus, the son of Odysseus and Penelope.

What is mentoring not?

Mentoring is not coaching. Coaching is meant to close a specific skill gap, so it is normally very goal oriented and short, and the mood is neutral.  A manager and team leader are coaching their team members, if they see a deficiency. A group of professionals can be coached together to learn something new, which is beyond a training course.

Mentoring also is not teaching and lecturing. It is intended that you, the mentee (also called protege) is in charge of the relationship, organizing meetings, asking question and most importantly you are expected to do most of the talking. The mentor should mainly listen and provide feedback. Ask questions to make the mentee reflect and consider. Give examples from own experience, hint to experts that might support and provide a context and perspective. Maybe review a document drafted by the mentee.

How do you get a Mentor?

Everybody has to have the same understanding what is meant by mentoring. For some it will be just a new word for something they think they already are doing, but maybe it is mixed with coaching a bit. Everyone has some capability about which he or she could be a mentor for others, but often elder colleagues have the most professional experience to build on and should have a larger network to connect with.

Then, mentees looking for a mentor should be able to find one. Experienced professionals should be willing to mentor and say so. Some managers and team leads are nominating team members as mentees.

Maybe ’speed-mentoring’ can help, when the mentors are available to shortly talk with many mentees for about 5 minutes and then decide which the best pair could be.

Why should I be a Mentor myself?

First, as an experienced professional, you probably already help younger colleagues on an ad-hoc base. It is a good habit of older colleagues, to give back and maintain your network. The difference to mentoring is that it is more transparent and structured, which not only enables management to support this better but also will motivate more colleagues to become a mentor. 

Second, if the Mentor is from another department as suggested, it will increase your network and cross-team understanding. Cross-team work is important. It will enable you to look beyond your department’s boundaries, use lessons learned from the other teams and help others with your knowledge and wisdom.

Thirdly, the time commitment for mentoring, maybe as much as 1-2 hours per month, is so low it can be tweaked into every schedule. Remember, it is up to the Mentee to schedule and organize the meetings or calls. Great leaders even reserve significant time for mentoring in their schedule.

And lastly, mentoring is a key element to develop your own leadership capabilities, to enhance your active listening, your empathy, your networking. As a mentor you can be a mentee at the same time, on a different topic or level.

You are as good as the average of the five people you interact with most.


(Published in LinkedIN December 2015)

Posted on: July 26, 2016 04:32 AM | Permalink | Comments (15)

Inspirational Leadership and the role of a vision

Inspirational Leadership and the role of a vision

In October 2008 I was happy enough to attend the PMI Symposium in Denver and listen to its keynote speaker Colin Powell. He conveyed several messages about leadership and one stuck with me in particular because it shows very well the difference between a leader and a manager, a team vision and project objectives. He also told the audience that he considers himself to be a project manager and did projects in all his professional life as a military leader, when he was initiating, planning, executing, monitoring and closing, as well as building teams.


Colin Powell explained to the audience that is is not enough to motivate the team members, you have to inspire them. When they are inspired, they try – together with you as the leader – to make the vision come true. They want to reach it for themselves, not just do what they are told to do. They see challenges and find ways to overcome them. They do not ask the leader what to do next, they suggest next steps, options for problems and support each other. Inspiration means powerful influence on intellect and emotions of people and could refer to religious influence by prophets or preachers but also to artistic creativity.

As Colin Powell stated, motivation is a weaker form of influencing, by giving an incentive or a reason for doing something. Incentives work well as a leadership tool, but only for a short time and they also might be perceived as unbalanced with the service expected.

Decision making

In some projects, there will be situations where the path to success is not easy to see, benefits and risks have to be judged and

balanced, and here is where the leader still is required to support by making decisions. In some cultures, decisions are made by the leader while in other cultures the leader just looks at proposals made by the team and challenges them. Decision making by the leader takes away some burden and responsibility from the team and will result in a faster progress. This style of decision making is often seen in the western world and it is considered a best practice. Usually it works if the culture accepts explicit directions.

On the other hand, although with a longer decision making process, if the team has to come up with one opinion, decisions will be more sustainable, stable and implementation will be quicker.

Visions without a Leader

Think about recent developments in Northern Africa, supported by team communications through Twitter and Texting, thousands and millions of people managed to bring forward a quick change to their country, sharing a vision of freedom of choice (e.g. related to elections, occupation, family)and without suppression. These successful projects were started without a sponsor and implemented without a leader creating and maintaing a vision. In Egypt, some candidates for leadership even refused to take that role and responsibility, in Lybia there were several spokespersons and focal points, but none of them drove the project, they were supporting followers of the vision. It was just enough to share a strong vision, which was relevant to the lives of many. Other examples are catastrophes – they create a strong and relevant vision for the affected people. Often it is observed that people are helping each other more than in normal circumstances, everyone finds a meaningful role by themselves, and priorities are quite clear to everyone. In these examples, there is less leadership, but there is a vision.

Leaders without a vision

Some say, a vision is not needed for a leader in every case. Well, maybe without an explicit vision, there is a joint feeling in the team, not described and formulated but felt by everybody. From that, is it the case that leadership (and sponsorship) is required when a vision is not so obvious for the team and automatically accepted by all? Warfare, business projects and even social projects follow ideas of sponsors which for some reason are capable to not only create a vision but also convey it. Not always, these visions directly support the personal goals and capabilities of the team members. Then, leadership is absolutely required to formulate, communicate and maintain a vision and convince the team members that they follow it again and again. This should inspire the team and keep them onboard for the full course of the project, otherwise much effort is needed to permanently keep the team on track, by shorttime motivation, forcing or threateningInspiration in this context means: Infuse an idea and make it the wish of each member to follow it.

Visions and Value Systems

A worrying fact is that this works for ̳good causes‘ and for ̳bad causes‘. What is perceived good and bad depends on the cultural context, which is based on shared values, built and accepted over mostly long periods of time. Crusades were considered a good cause by the crusaders but certainly as a thread by the Arabs. Business projects are seen as a good cause if they support a good strategic plan of the business organization, although competition might think otherwise.

Values and Cultures

Value systems of countries, ethnic groups, families, companies are differing. While there are some shared human values (are UN human rights a shared value everywhere?), depending on history and generational memory, specific group values exist and are long-term frameworks for living and working. Hofstede(*) has analyzed cultural differences between national groups. These cultural differences help to grasp the differences in value systems across countries.

A vision is sharable if it does not contradict with the value systems of the team members. It works best if it is aligned with the values and resonates with the feelings and beliefs of the team.

What does it need to be a good leader?

PMI‘s PMBOK Guide lists social competencies for a project manager: leadership, team building, motivation, communication, influencing, decision making, political and cultural awareness and negotiation. Leadership is described as the ability to get things done thru others which could be seen as one person, the leader wants something being done and he is capable to make others do it. This means the leader has power and is using it. The vision can be the main vehicle to make others do something.

What makes a good vision?

Is it clearly stating tangible and measurable goals? Is it unambiguous? Is it objective? Maybe not. Good visions may include a compelling story about the future to achieve, capturing the emotions. This might be achieved by storytelling. An image of the future, easy to remember and to envision should be build. Key terms help – like in branding of a company or product. For a business project, the vision should be achievable and not too far stretched. For other purposes, a vision could be something that can only be reached in generations or even never, but if it is strong enough, it could drive people to work to achieve steps towards it (like making the world a better place for children, find a cure for cancer).

President Kennedy‘s vision was shortly bringing a man to the moon and back to earth within the decade of the 60s. It is regarded as an excellent vision, nobody knew how to do it in the beginning but the vision was made a reality within that period (some are questioning that, but this is another story). Any team member in government, at NASA and in the whole country was inspired.

Consider a business vision of being the most profitable company in an industry within the next 5 years. How does company profit resonate with the personal values and targets of the employees? Yes, profit for the company means safer jobs in general, higher reputation and more dividends for stock holders. On the other hand, it means cost cuts, more selectivity and job losses for the not- so-productive. To inspire employees to follow that vision is a hard sell.

On the other hand, a business vision of becoming the most green company in the next 5 years might resonate better, because corporate social responsibility, environmental awareness are closely covered by current value systems of developed countries now and also directly relate to the lives of everyone and their families.

Steps to create a vision

So, do you want to become a good leader using visions? What should you do?

Understand the cultural context and values
Understand the specific project goals, and their context like a strategic plan
From that, create a vision statement and image that resonates with the values to be a good cause.
Test it.

  • Launch the vision. Consider launching a new product or a rocket. This is not just accomplished by sending an email or making an all-hands call.
  • Use a feedback loop to control and fine-tune the effect of the vision on the team members – all over the project lifetime


Leadership needs many skills; one of the most important is to influence people. The power of a vision may help a leader to achieve that influence and inspire the team. Within a functioning team there is always a joint understanding and feeling, so a vision exists, is it explicitly created by the leader or implicitly developed thru the circumstances like during crises. Building and sharing and maintaining vision with a team is inspiration. Look for examples for visions that worked. Visions have to align and resonate with the value system, which is the long-term description of why people are doing something.

So be aware of the value system and proactively work on the vision for your project and you will harvest what you have sawn.

(*) Ref. Geert Hofstede,


(Article first published in PUNE Chapter Newsletter, 2011)

Posted on: July 23, 2016 04:38 AM | Permalink | Comments (6)

I saw someone on the street eating M&M's with a spoon.

- Jerry Seinfeld