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The Strategic Skills PMO Leaders Must Possess

In last week’s blog post How to measure and report the strategic impact of projects, we looked at how well the PMO is placed to measure the business impact of projects and initiatives, and in doing so, identify their strategic value.

Given that it is only through the successful delivery of projects chosen for their strategic importance that business can achieve their strategic goals, project-based work is on the rise across all organisations.

As a result however, many projects are being managed by non-certified or “unofficial” project managers. While capable technically, they lack the relational skills to make strategic decisions and take responsibility for strategic actions – something which is essential if organisations are to move forward in the complex business environment of today.

Project workers who understand the strategic importance of their role and their projects are therefore in high demand and many organisations are establishing project management offices (PMOs) that can ensure teams have these skills – something we discuss in more detail in the article: Transforming your project team from good to great.

But a senior project manager or head of a PMO must be in possession of strategic skills themselves, if they are to support a successful PMO and build teams who think strategically. In other words, can think tactically about a programme or project and get it done within the triple constraints of cost, time and scope – while at the same time taking a strategic approach by considering whether or not the initiative is right for the organisation.

Strategic thinking is paramount to ensuring PMO initiatives are contributing to organisational goals. The problem is that many initiatives are led by individuals who lack project or programme management experience and are unable to connect the dots between projects and strategy.

These inexperienced leaders risk making tactical decisions that could impact the organisation at a broader level.

A more subtle risk is when PMO leaders invest in “the wrong” initiatives, yet still manage them well. Unless the PMO leader can assess whether or not it makes sense to pursue a project or programme, the initiative could prove to be of little value in the long run.

“Ultimately, organisations that elevate the PMO to a strategic decision-making level are far more likely to be high performers. In fact, 42% of PMOs believe a more strategic orientation among project owners and stakeholders is a way top way to increase the effectiveness of the PMO.” Executing Your Strategy, How to Break it Down and Get it Done, M.Morgan, R.Levitt, W. Malek.

Possessing better understanding of the organisation’s vision, strategy and processes enables PMO leaders to become more strategic, while knowing exactly how projects and programmes map to strategic objectives also helps rally the entire team behind the importance of the initiative.

PMO leaders must also understand the difference between a “need-to-have” and a “nice-to-have” initiative. If a project or programme doesn’t serve the strategy that has been designed to support the organisation’s goals, it will not provide meaningful value in the long term. This requires an understanding of the business case from every angle.

In summary, PMO leaders need a different set of skills than a typical business leader would possess.

The PMO manager must move seamlessly across organisational boundaries and “get things done” through influence, relationship building and a deep understanding of organisational culture and processes. For that reason, the most effective PMO leaders must possess the following skills:

  1. Mastering peripheral vision

To succeed on a strategic level, PMO managers should learn everything they can about the organisation. They should look outside their domains and industries and across the organisation, to truly grasp the big picture.

  1. Recruiting support

Once they gain insight through the discussions within the organisation, experienced PMO managers turn that insight into action.

  1. Excelling at risk management

When the PMO takes on new initiatives, the best PMO managers conduct a solid assessment to identify what could go wrong.

  1. Understanding and presenting vision

Effective PMO leaders present relevant messages about the initiative at different levels of the organisation, and can stand up to criticism.

  1. Being adaptively persistent

Inevitably problems will happen and the PMO must adapt. Knowing what to do and taking immediate action when the time comes is critical to success.

  1. Tying initiatives to business value

In positioning themselves strategically, the best PMO leaders measure and report on the metrics that matter to the business and at the end of each project quantifies success as it relates to strategic company-wide objectives.


The PMO leaders that can achieve the above will share a key trait – to think big and recognise they can play a larger role in helping to drive company success.

For a more detailed list on the ways PMO managers can ensure their organisation maximises the project/programme return on investment, minimises duplication of efforts and aligns business operations to meet executive management’s strategy, read the whitepaper: Taking Your Seat at the Strategy Table: The training and skills PMO leaders need to engage at a strategic level.

And for more thought leadership on this crucial subject, visit the Strategy Execution section of our knowledge resource centre.

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About Rebecca Leitch

Rebecca Leitch
Rebecca Leitch is a marketeer at TwentyEighty Strategy Execution - focused on bringing new project management content for the PM community.

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