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The PMO as the Centre Leader

There has been much written and taught about leadership in project management yet very little about the PMO – and what kind of leadership they provide.

The PMO Flashmob was hosted at TwentyEighty Strategy Execution’s offices in London for an evening event all about PMO Leadership. There were different aspects to consider; the type of organisation people work in; the culture of the organisation; the marketplace in which they operate; what the PMO is there to do and how it performs the role.

The Centre Leader

One concept the group were introduced to was the Centre Leader. If we consider leadership across the whole strategy execution eco-system – from senior management to project management; the PMO could be seen as the middle level.

If we take the strategic leadership level as the place where strategy formation takes place – the ‘architects‘ of strategy for the organisation, then look to the centre leader as the portfolio management PMO level – the ‘translators‘ of the strategy into programmes and projects which are needed to meet the strategic goals. The final level is the front-line management – the project/ programme managers and their teams – the ‘doers‘ that deliver the programmes and projects.



The Centre Leader role does appear to be the Portfolio Manager, Portfolio Office Manager or Portfolio Office (PMO) – the glue that joins the architects and doers.

The Centre Leader takes strategies from the architects and begins the work of understanding what programmes and projects are needed. The translation role of investment appraisals; business cases; benefits management; prioritisation; resource management and the whole portfolio plan is needed.

The translators – the Centre Leader ensures that the programmes and projects selected meet the strategic goals and then moves the initiation of project based work to the people who do it best – the programme and project managers.

The whole process however is not just a one way communication. Organisations will always rely on the work of a centre level – the link between the work being done and strategies being met. Today, that centre level is very much the work of the PMO. It is here that progress on programmes and projects is reported and communicated. The PMO’s remit of governance, monitoring and control means it takes progress updates; seeks to understand the information received before reporting upwards to the senior management level.

The role of the Centre Leader should also be about advocating adjustments – progress and project outcomes are communicated to senior management with additional information on how current programme and project work may be changing due to the VUCA environments that more and more organisations find themselves working within.

It is this adjustment – the recognition that programmes and projects need to change because the strategies of the organisation are also changing – which highlights that the current business planning cycles and strategy formulation sessions on an annual cycle are an outdated approach.



The strategic leadership eco-system was also explained to the group in the form of an analogy of the Tour de France. The speed of the race is invoked here – perhaps more rapidly than programmes and projects within organisations – the constant readjustments between the architects, translators and the doers.

Centre Leader

The group was asked to think about the skills and capabilities of a Centre Leader – both the technical and the more behavioural skills required.

In thinking about the relationships involved there was mention of servant leadership; being able to communicate up; establishing credibility; influencing skills; being able to translate programme/project information into business information; decision-making; resilience and collaboration.

There was also discussions about the need for the organisation to be able to adapt and be more flexible in the way programmes and projects are delivered – so change management; process management; methodologies – and the ability to be more innovative with the way programmes and projects can be delivered.

For some of the group – having never worked in a portfolio office or had much to do with strategy before, there would need to be skills developed in both of these areas. There was also a discussion about the need for more business understanding – business knowledge because the Centre Leader role appears to have a foot in both camps – business management and project management.

For today’s PMO Manager – operating at a portfolio level – the Centre Leader role should be familiar. The Centre Leader model is another way to help those conversations within the organisation when it comes to positioning the PMO; what it is there to do; how it can support both strategy formulation and strategy execution; and in many cases help to bring together an environment that promotes collaboration; agility; high performance and ultimately success – all by leading from the centre.





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About Lindsay Scott

Lindsay Scott
Lindsay Scott is Director of PMO Learning, the PMO training specialist and Arras People the programme and project management recruitment specialists. Lindsay is the project management careers columnist for PMI's Network magazine and co-editor of the Gower Handbook of People in Project Management. Lindsay created and hosts The PMO Conference and hosts the monthly PMO Flashmobs

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