The expanding role of project leaders for business success

As disruptive technologies take hold, organisations need project leaders capable of embracing that change. 

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From achieving globalisation in a fractured world to managing the impact of disruptive technologies, organisations must be agile and quick to adapt in a rapidly evolving and highly competitive environment. This creates both challenges and opportunities for project leaders – those who implement strategy and change within organisations.

The role of a project manager is expanding to be one of an innovator, a strategic advisor, communicator, big thinker, and versatile manager. Titles are evolving also. We see project managers; team leaders; scrum masters and product owners; delivery, implementation, and change managers; and transformation leads, amongst others. We also see the role morphing from project manager to project lead – and even project executive, in some organisations – a reflection of the expanded, essential role these professionals play in managing through disruption.

In this new professional reality, project leaders (regardless of their title) must demonstrate the competencies that form our "Talent Triangle®" – technical project management, leadership, and strategic and business management skills. At the same time, organisations also need project leaders with an ability to learn and keep pace with technology. 

From our most recent "Pulse of the Profession" In-Depth Report, Developing Digital-Age Project Management Skills to Thrive in Disruptive Times, we discovered that successful management of disruptive technologies relies on a "digital skillset.” When we think of digital skills, we tend to think of computer-oriented tasks, such as coding or software development. But building a truly digital skillset that enables success in today’s digital environment requires a combination of skills. The main drivers for the effective management of disruptive technologies are… 

Skills, training and development. Innovator organisations see the most important digital-era skills for project leaders as data science (data management, analytics, big data) and the ability to make data-driven decisions; knowledge of security and privacy, as well as legal and regulatory compliance; an innovative mindset; and collaborative leadership. Innovators also report investing in formal processes to develop project manager competencies in these skills. Tools and approaches. Project leaders use multiple approaches, including collaborative platforms and work management tools, along with emerging, hybrid, and traditional methods to help them deliver. Our research shows that project leaders consider themselves ready, willing, and able to use these tools and approaches to manage the impact of disruptive technologies. 

Culture. Innovators are creating a culture that views disruption as an opportunity. They value the shift toward a digital environment as they encourage their project leaders to take advantage of flexible practices and new tools, and pave the way for a continued evolution to an environment where people and machines work together toward more successful outcomes.

Innovator organizations recognize that project leaders with the right digital-era skillsets do not simply appear. Organisations that will thrive in the face of disruption are fostering a culture that supports innovation and change. They are investing in their talent by building the skills they need, supplying their talent with the latest tools and technologies, and embracing the value delivery landscape – the full spectrum of competencies needed to deliver their projects and programs in a digital environment – to create the change they need.

Mark A Langley is president and CEO of the Project Management Institute.

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