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Linking project manager behaviour to the bottom line

Stephen Burnell
July 7, 2011

If your project managers do not have the ability to build and maintain strong relationships with stakeholders, think strategically, and take accountability for successful project delivery, then you are exposing your organisation and your bottom line to unnecessary risk.

Key decisions sink ships

When the Titanic set sail for New York City on the 10th April 1912, she did so having been designed by experienced engineers, using some of the most advanced technologies and extensive safety features of the time. She was, so owners White Star Line believed, unsinkable.

Not only did she sink, but she also sank on her maiden voyage, creating one of the greatest maritime disasters in history. There are many different factors that point to the extent of the disaster, however let’s focus on why the collision happened in the first place.

Captain E J Smith was on his retirement voyage and Bruce Ismay, managing director of White Star Line, was on board making bullish claims of a six-day crossing. Smith ignored seven iceberg warnings and several other warnings never even made it to the bridge because the Marconi radio operators didn’t relay ‘non-essential’ iceberg warnings.

So what does this all have to do with project management?

We have already introduced the concept of behaviour being a key driver of project effectiveness and discussed the risks of underestimating the significance of this human element when either selecting, or developing our project leaders.

We discussed the difference between personality and behaviour, warning that personality should be considered a driver of behaviour only, rather than a measure of capability.

Here we take a deeper look at three specific behavioural competencies to see how, in the context of project delivery, they can have a tangible impact on your organisation.

  • Stakeholder engagement: An ability to build and maintain strong stakeholder partnerships.
  • Strategic Focus: An understanding of a project in the context of the broader business/strategic objectives.
  • Results Drive: Unwavering commitment, accountability and drive towards successful project delivery.

It’s fair to say that as captain you are the project manager of a ship’s voyage. You have maps, charts, instruments, and a whole wealth of technical expertise at your disposal. Your project brief is to get your vessel from A to B, ideally in the designated time, but definitely without people getting wet.

Just like ocean voyages, projects are dynamic, with decisions regularly needed to be made under the push-and-pull pressure of time, cost, value and personal motive. Maybe, in the case of the Titanic, Captain Smith had motive to run the engines faster than was safe: after all. it was his last journey at the helm, and Ismay was pretty keen to set a new benchmark time for trans-Atlantic crossings.

We may never know for sure, but if Smith was more effective at managing Ismay (his stakeholder), and took a more strategic, holistic approach, rather than being driven by only one measure of success at all costs, the story of the Titanic might be a very different one.

So how can we ensure that our project captains have the right behaviours to successfully deliver our desired project outcomes?

Measuring success

Organisations are complex systems, and no two are the same. Likewise, success of their projects can be measured in many forms. For example:

  • Overall performance is met (functionality, budget and timing)
  • User requirements are met and client is satisfied with project results
  • Recurring business is secured with the client etc.
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Stephen Burnell
Stephen Burnell is the managing director of Touchstone Projects, a project management capability consulting company that integrates behavioural science with established project methodology to create a suite of tools to lift project delivery capability. He has international experience in talent management, and has consulted to some of Australia's leading organisations on their approach to the assessment, selection and development of their people.
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One thought on “Linking project manager behaviour to the bottom line

  1. Fantastic Article. The key ingredient in any project is the leadership of the PM. One should never underestimate the importance of measuring for the right behaviors prior to selecting your PM in key Strategic Business initiatives.

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