How PMO Leaders Can Thrive

How PMO Leaders Can Thrive

Insights | 20 August 2019

Like all successful leaders, heads of PMOs must possess both hard and soft skills in order to thrive.

Similarly, elevation into leadership roles often comes based on hard skills alone. This can lead to that state of cognitive dissonance well known to anyone in business: “What got you here, won’t get you there.” So how can PMO leaders ensure they have the right (and full) tool-kit in place to succeed?

Empathy in action

First, let’s start with the most necessary soft skill for any leader—empathy.[1]

Leaders who master empathy “perform more than 40 per cent higher in overall performance,” according to research[2] highlighted in HR in Asia magazine. Researchers defined empathy as “acknowledging others’ feelings and circumstances when they express emotion verbally or nonverbally” so they know their feelings are understood and considered.

This research is echoed by many other of today’s top thinkers, including Dr. Brené Brown, who describes empathy as a skill that leaders can (and should) both acquire and practice. Brown highlights the work of Theresa Wiseman, a UK-based nursing scholar, and her four defining attributes of empathy:

  • To be able to see the world as others see it
  • To be nonjudgmental
  • To understand another person’s feelings
  • To communicate your understanding of that person’s feelings

Empathy becomes especially important for leaders whose work touches not only individuals, but processes and perspectives too. Here’s a great reminder from an article in PMO Talk[3]: “Your team is not a cluster of machines. They’re people. With human foibles, shortcomings, needs, wants, dreams, and desires.”

Be the change you want to see

Next, to be a truly transformational PMO leader, you need to deliver on major change initiatives, which can be difficult for an enterprise-level PMO with seasoned leadership. This is due to the conflict between seeing the PMO as either “guardian” or change agent, not both. Outstanding PMO leadership must operate effectively on both levels, not just one.

As a guardian, the PMO leader ensures all programmes operate effectively, including standard reporting, governance standards, and standard management processes.[4]

As a force of change, the PMO leader must also be able to shift into the role of a strategic contributor. In a recent Pulse of the Profession report referencing PMOs and strategy,[5] the Project Management Institute found that high-performing PMOs tend to share some key characteristics. They:

  • Go beyond the basics by assessing project quality
  • Help business managers tasked with delivery properly brief senior executives
  • Give enough time to make course corrections and ensure that the initiative gets delivered
  • Solicit feedback from key stakeholders
  • Continuously improve their practices to drive successful strategy execution

Excellence in communication

Communication will also be a defining characteristic of a thriving, high-impact PMO leader. Don’t overuse project-management speak. Focus on arming decision-makers with highly digestible and actionable information. If you need help bolstering your communication skills, ask for it, early and often. It’s as much a career-defining attribute as anything else. Work with your team to define a communications strategy from the outset—and one that goes beyond status reporting.

What’s next

In all, there is a lot expected of PMO leadership—empathy, the ability to be a force of transformational change, great communication skills. It’s easy to see how it can quickly become overwhelming. But great leadership is a skill that can be honed over time. Focus on presenting an empathetic, vulnerable and authentic style of leadership that complements the hard skills you’ve worked to acquire. If you can center yourself where these two worlds connect, then you will be well on your way to becoming a transformational leader in your own right.

For more information on how PM-Partners can help your organisation with project, programme or PMO delivery, contact us today on +65 6818 5771





Enquire Now


    +65 6635 1389

    By submitting this form I agree to the Privacy policy


      Stay Informed

      Subscribe to our newsletter and receive quarterly industry news updates and stay informed of forthcoming PM-Partners group events.

      By submitting this form I agree to the Privacy policy