Leading Change and Changing Leadership
An interview with PM College senior instructor Ruth Elswick
PM College senior instructor Ruth Elswick is a people person: in her teaching, in her writings (both for Project Management Essentials and the AMA Handbook of Project Management), and especially in her interactions with participants in her classes, her focus is always on the people side of project management. So I wasn’t surprised when she chose leadership as the topic for our interview.
Question: What’s new on the topic of leadership in project management?
Ruth: I notice that PMI is now changing the CCR requirements for PMP certification. Leadership is now one aspect of the PM key talent triangle: strategic skills, business skills, and leadership skills. I’m very glad to see leadership be given equal value.
Q: This new emphasis is based on research by PMI and others, isn’t it?
A: Yes. The most recent PMI Pulse of the Profession says “75% of organizations rank leadership skills as the most important for successful navigation of complexity on projects.”
And as you know, the research soon to be released by PM College has also identified leadership skills as the skills considered most important by both project managers and executives!
Q: So this is an old topic, but we seem to be putting a new spin on it.
A: That’s right. My observation is that leadership's definition is in flux: it used to be that leaders dictated; then we went through the period when we saw the flattening of organizations. This was an improvement in many ways, especially because project managers were called upon to take more of a leadership role. However, often the same skills that made project managers excellent technical leaders also caused them to struggle in a more business-oriented leadership role.
Today I think there is a widespread recognition that divergent career paths for technical project managers and business project managers are required, and that each of these paths calls for various sorts of leadership skills. And that’s a good thing!
Q: What other trends do you see within your population of students?
A: Probably the most important recent addition to project management practice is the crucial role that is now played by change management. Project managers have been well schooled in change within the project environment – changes to scope or requirements – but (and this also is partly due to the flattening of organizations) now it has become extremely important to be aware of and manage that change that occurs as a result of the project. The organizational impact of the project, the impacts on users of a product, or impacts to the larger community. Project managers must be aware of what they need to do during the project so that ultimately the planned benefits will be realized.
[Editor’s note: Please join the conversation by addressing questions or comments to as in the comment fields below. And stay tuned for the release of the Project Manager Skills Benchmark research study in May.]