InEight Global Capital Projects Outlook 2021: Optimism and Digitization

Creating a culture of innovation on a project

Adeline Teoh ed.
May 7, 2013

In my last post I asked whether your project team felt comfortable giving you feedback about the project (or your management style). This time I’m going to ask if they’re just as comfortable trying new things in the name of innovation.

By the second day of PMIAUS13, Project Management Institute’s Sydney conference held last week, the theme of 21st Century Leadership had come to fruition. One secondary theme that was both hinted at and explicitly stated throughout the keynotes and sessions was the emergence of innovation in project management when leadership is ‘done right’.

We so often think of leadership as an asset when things go badly, because this is when leaders show their true colours: in making tough decisions, dealing with conflict and getting projects back on track. Tension and uncertainty, funnily enough, can also give rise to innovation, according to keynote Ron Douglas, Global Head of Projects and Technology at Orica. Douglas pointed out that many processes which have become standard project management practice were forged during times of war or great political pressure.

This post is not about tough times and project management scars but about how we, as leaders, can foster innovation all the time by cultivating the right attitude among our project team members. The best advice actually came from a speaker who was not a project manager, but a manager of Sydney community radio station FBi*, Cassandra Wilkinson.

Wilkinson emphasised that leadership was allowing a team to feel safe, even if it failed. “If you aren’t failing very often, you aren’t trying very hard,” is a cliche, she said, but too few organisations actually practised this, punishing those who tried something new if it did not reap a return. Her main message about innovation was to lead beyond the project and get the team to latch onto ‘the dream’. “If Martin Luther King had said ‘I have a plan’ people would have asked ‘how long will it take?’,” she quipped.

So my question to you is: does your team have the confidence to fail, or are you missing out on innovation in your project?

* Declaration of interest: I am a card-carrying ‘Passionate’ FBi supporter.

Author avatar
Adeline Teoh ed.
Adeline Teoh is the editor of She has more than a decade of publishing experience in the fields of business and education, and has specialised in writing about project management since 2007.
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