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How to speak to project sponsors

Adeline Teoh ed.
September 25, 2013

The theme was the ‘Projects driving and sustaining the future of the Australian economy’ but the recent PMOz conference was clearly driven by soft skills: leadership, emotional intelligence and how to talk to executives. It’s what you say and how you say it.

Peter FitzSimons has played rugby for Australia but is best known as a sports columnist and a bestselling non-fiction author. Rugby’s loss is reader’s gain; the man can certainly tell a story. Tasked with delivering a keynote on the ‘Qualities of Great Leaders’, FitzSimons took us on a thrilling narrative that weaved together a series of stories drawn from his experience, the people he has met and the books he has written.

FitzSimons’ method dealt less with pointing out the qualities of the great leaders he has met and researched, and more with demonstrating, through the anecdotes he relayed, how they led. Show don’t tell, is the writer’s mantra.

Dr Lynn Crawford from Human Systems International followed. She acknowledged she was less of a storyteller but nevertheless built a compelling argument for ‘Speaking the right language: Getting the buy-in for PPPM’ by articulating the divide between how project/program/portfolio managers report and what project sponsors and executives want to hear. There is a cloud between the two layers of hierarchy, she said, and the right language can break through it like a ray of light.

Crawford’s keynote was surprisingly prescient. Many of the issues ostensibly about better project selection and the advent of a project-driven economy were actually about the relationship between project managers and their clients, sponsors and board and how the people on the project could communicate the value of their role.

Mindavation‘s Hadyn Thomas later issued a prediction: project managers will soon report to change managers, who will report to the executive level. Why? Because change managers understand project and speak executives’ language, making them the best translators to promote project value. The question is, what are you going to do about it? Are you prepared to learn a new language?

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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