The People SIG is preparing to spend a year focusing on Resilience through a number of events.

I really like the following phrase offered by the ‘ Young Foundation’: 'Resilience is the ordinary superpower that helps us deal with set-backs, rise up to challenges and grasp opportunities'.

For me this epitomises the way in which resilience is not only the ability to cope with adversity, but to positively overcome issues and achieve success.

What does Resilience mean to you?  Please use this thread to share thoughts, ideas and references, and also to discuss any future or past events etc.



Psychology Today reports it as 'that ineffable quality that allows some people to be knocked down by life and come back stronger than ever.'

For me this is something that I've experienced repeatedly and my resilience continues to grow ... it's something I've admired in others whose challenges appear (to me) much greater than my own.


Resilience = Resourcefulness

Our People SIG theme  is Resilience.  I’ve been thinking about a number of aspects:

§  What does resilience mean?

§  How do I learn/develop resilience?

§  How do I demonstrate resilience?

For me, resilience is about being well resourced, and able to identify and obtain resource where needed. Able to act, react and respond according to context, urgency and capacity.  Personally, this may be physical, emotional, cerebral or indeed all three!

As an individual, I had to develop resistance/resilience to manage my reactions to racism/bullying, and being somewhat small (I attained a heady 5 feet 2 inches), I had to become resilient to daily challenges like reaching top shelves in cabinets, traversing crevasses when rock climbing and of course physically looking up to everyone around me.  Much of this resilience was created and refined through guidance, support and experience during my formative years and subsequently embellished, and reinforced, as I grew more self aware.

As a process, resilience is a skills area that requires identification, analysis, response, monitoring, control and closure.  The range of competences required to maintain resilience is contextual, timely and of course unique to an individual. 

My personal resilience ebbs and flows, I’m fortunate to both mentor and be mentored so am able to share and renew my own stores both actively and passively.

I’m able to demonstrate resilience through flexibility, tenacity, openness and discretion.  For me, demonstrating resilience is all about balance.

Resilience for me is a necessary life skill.  The People SIG, in choosing to use Resilience as its theme, has brought it to my consciousness, both in thought and deed.


Irene MacDonald

For me resilience is about weathering the storm.  

·         Being honest enough to know that I have a limit to what I can do at one time

·         Being able to prioritise to myself and others before reaching a crisis 

·         Being able to recognise the signs of saturation

·         Being ready and able to off load excess baggage before reaching saturation

·         Being able to hold on tight when the going gets bumpy  

·         Being able to stay calm and focussed through the bumps

·         Being able to balance the work and rest required to get the job done

·         Being able to relax again when it the worst is past




I like the inclusion of recovery as part of the resilience cycle ... something I've certainly not given conscious action to previously.

Richard Galley

I agree with and endorse all that Irene and Sheilina have said already.

To me resilience means:

·         "bounce-back-ability"

·         adaptability (situation and environment)  

·         flexibility (attitude and expectations)

·         learning from experience and putting that learning into practice

·         the ability to give and receive feedback

·         maintaining a sense of proportion and perspective

·         establishing a personal support network and making use of it (e.g. coaching / mentoring)

·         having the confidence and knowing when to ask for assistance and help

·         establishing priorities and being disciplined in sticking to them

·         having the confidence to stand back and take stock on a regular basis

·         being prepared to compromise whilst remaining true to one’s principles

·         being willing and able to see an issue from someone else’s standpoint

·         staying true to one’s feelings and 'moral compass'

·         having the confidence to take time-out to refresh / recharge oneself

·         being able to unwind

·         retaining a sense of humour and not being afraid to use it!

 Remember the Weebles ... they may have wobbled, but they didn’t fall down!

Sion Jones

Alistair, you bring up some really good points in your recent blog, and along with those of Sheilina, Irene and Peter serves to raise the need to have an open discussion of what Resilience means to people as individuals.

To me, resilience is a multi-faceted thing and is not a subject that can sit comfortably in a nice little pigeon hole. So, it worries me when when attempts are made do define what resilience is by using punchy one-liners or comforting little homilies. Resilience can be looked at in many different contexts such of organisational, environmental, personal and by any number of other labels.

Possibly the most challenging view of resilience may well be the personal and emotional one.

When one considers "Self" in terms of resilience, I believe it is about experiencing a bad time, surviving it, coming out the other side and then realising that despite it all you are still emotionally intact and capable of functioning. The true measure of "Self" resilience is the moment of realisation that the same is about to happen again and, rather than avoid it, you decide to face it and battle though. The more often it happens the tougher and more resilient you find you become and the more you realise your own inner strength.

On encountering a bad episode for the first time at whatever point in your career, there can be a sense of surprise, deepening uncertainty and increasing realisation of vulnerability. It is a foreign place to be, one of disorientation and, in extremis, one of debilitation. This can induce severe self-doubt and loss of self-confidence.
The key to gaining "Self" resilience is the recognition of what is happening and having the emotional strength to put aside any pride or embarrasment and ask for help.

I have found that there is a very simple test to show that this is not a rare thing, in fact it is a very common experience.
When you go into work tomorrow, ask your colleagues a few simple questions such as:
    Have you ever lost sleep over your job? (Indeed, you should ask yourself the same question)
    Should this be the accepted norm and an intrinsic part of the job? (If not then why not)
Who amongst them, though, has the strength to say "I could do with some help"?
Maybe the hard question is who amongst you is prepared to give that help when and where its needed?

Like many others trying to understand tough subjects, I apologise for sounding opinionated and asking questions that I don't have the answers to.

Alastair Smart

Thanks for all the contributions so far. 

I think that having the environmental and organisational support being in place are an enabler to being resilient as an individual. Cultures of support differ, which may influence the level of courage or confidence that an individual must have to ask for help – and might also dictate whether that help being made available is a gamble, or a given.

Without strong networks of personal and professional relationships around us to which we can turn for help, then we will start to lose hope, which can eat away at any resilience we may have already built up in ourselves…

Jane Royden

For me, this scientific definition of resilience hit home;

'The maximum energy that can be absorbed per unit volume without creating a permanent distortion'

The idea of absorbing energy intrigues me, as from a personal perspective this really resonates.  Because sometimes I am able to block it out easily - and I notice people who seem to have a 'force field' around them that seems to protect them.  Other times energy is useful and it has a positive effect that I want to take advantage of.  It's the other times when I let it affect me and I don't what it to - perhaps then it's useful for me to notice what I'm doing differently.

Then the concept of a permanent distortion, either physically or mentally, just by noticing it is happening, or has the potential to happen, must seem to give me more choices about what I can do to respond.

As for the unit volume - I think it best if I ignore that part.  :-)

Peter Parkes

I find that people get confused in the use of the terms stress, strain and resilience.  Like Jane, I revert to the scientific definitions.  Stress in itself is natural.  Too much stress is bad, however, in that it results in strain. This occurs when stress is greater than resilience.  In material science it is the point at which an elastic band stops stretching in proportion to force but instead starts to deform.  Only a relatively small extra force is then required to actually snap the elastic.  More than a simple metaphor?

We can avoid strain by both reducing stress and building resilience.

I will be speaking on ‘Building Resilience and Managing Stress: Achieving more and bending less' for APM on 29th March and through the year - see the events calendar or for dates and flier.

Amerjit Walia

Resilience takes on many forms that is clear and relies on a a number of attirbutres, cultural conditioning, charateristeristics, experience, competencies and lots of determination/ and motivation. The psychological contract has alluded organisations but is an attempt to engage people with project or organsiational ambitions and goals. This is particularly true in times of crisis when organisations ask people to dig deep and use terms like 'resilience' to to mtoivate both teams and the organisation to support it out of crisis.

Whilst the lists of characterisitcs of resilience are useful in defining our understanding, it is the outcomes of resilience that needs to be debated. What do we want from being resiliient? How will this process support organisations? what's in it for the people themselves in terms of rewards and motivation? will it develop organisational capability and creativity?

Some thoughts ...


Sion Jones

I've been working with a project manager over the last few weeks who, as it turned out, is an infantry sergeant in the TAs and was out in Afghanistan on front line duty only last year. It got me thinking about resilience again and what we understand it to be. So I searched on PTSD to see if there were any parallels with our notions of resilience. I found the information at to be quite interesting.

I would never compare what project managers experience with those that the armed forces are exposed to, but some of the symptoms and behaviours are uncomfortably familiar. Uncomfortable because of my own experiences and of the behaviours and attitudes I have seen in others.

I find the use of the analogies of elasticity in the other comments on this discussion interesting in that the aim is to increase resilience to avoid the prospect of reaching the breaking point and the unknown consequences beyond it.
At the individual level, what happens after the breaking point is exceeded, are we venturing into PTSD territory?
Does anyone have thoughts on what behavious and symptoms would be exhibited when an organisation break point is reached and is there an organisational equivalent of PTSD?


Peter Parkes

Sion, PTSD is indeed closely related.  See my latest blog for a discussion on current research on treatments for this ('Forgetting the pill').  But stress is calibrated on a personal scale and people can be affected by anything outside their comfort zone.  Indeed, in a survey by the Australian Instititue for PM, stress was cited as the number 1 concern.

David Hart

For me the heart of resilience is about being able to ‘bounce back’.   What is interesting is how do we actually ‘bounce back’ – and what are the factors that influence our ability to do so?

A few years ago I came across the concept of Mental Toughness (which was very useful to me at the time) one component of which is resilience.  It struck me that high ‘mental toughness’ was probably important for anyone managing challenging projects – and experience since has reinforced this view.

From my own personal perspective, looking back I’d say that as an individual I would see setbacks as a challenge and as something I would invariably come back from much stronger than before.  Reflecting now I’m not sure this is still the case – whilst still able to bounce back, do I find myself strengthened by the experiences as much now?   Perhaps it is related to age (although Rupert Murdoch seems to go from strength to strength), or about the ability to de-personalise and compartmentalise, or just related to having enough time-out to recharge the batteries maybe? 

Mark Oliver

Great discussion!

For me an aspect that has not come up is the need for Courage and I am not referring to the well known brew (although it may help!)

The PM needs the courage to be honest even when those around him/her do not want to hear the reality. The PM needs the courage to have the difficult conversation. The PM needs the courage to address the difficult issue is a timely manner. This is a skill that needs to be developed and support such as “Crucial Conversations” can really add to the PM’s tool kit.

Without the objectivity to assess reality and the courage to address it the Project will likely fail and potentially the PM will “fail” also. Bad news does not get better with age. Without the clarity and honesty to identify and socialise the issue the problems will not be resolved and the project will not be positioned for success.

The PM is all too often placed in the difficult sandwich where the customer wants success and the organisation want success. Objectivity can be lost. It is the PMs role to be objective and not just give the answers that the stakeholders want to hear! A conspiracy of optimism is not a toolset for success!


Alastair Smart

Maybe you’re struggling to finish a task; a key component hasn’t been delivered; or you’re meeting your targets but at the cost of working late into the evenings.  Perhaps your project goal is poorly defined and senior management just can’t give you the time you need. 
Well maybe you’re not cut out to work in PM. 
If you can’t stand the heat get out of the kitchen.
You’re working in Project Management: the clue is in the name – you have to manage. 

Read more of the People SIG February Blog

Peter E Horsted

I have read with real interest what people have posted against this topic and it really got me thinking aboout what the term really means to me.

In a business context I would define resilience as an organisation‟s ability to successfully adjust to the compounded impact of internal and external events over a significant time period. I am sure that within this definition a significant time period would differ from person to person. For me we have to be talking at least months, if not years!

Personally I really struggle to give a definition in project management terms that really hits the spot as it is just certain words and phrases that resinate with me. Some of these are "doing what is right rather than what is expected", "getting the job done" and "being receptive to changing circumstances"

Throughout my career i have come across a lot of people that I would class as being resiliant. Within this group there have been a few really talented individuals that were able to transmit their own resiliance to others in the face of adversity to ultimately still deliver to time, cost and quality when all the smart money was on project failure.

Irene MacDonald

Peter, you make an excellent observation regarding shared resilience.   I too have been inspired by and have attempted to emulate those that can engender quiet competence when faced with extreme conditions, leading others to be strong and calm through the difficult times.

Irene MacDonald

Peter, you make an excellent observation regarding shared resilience.   I too have been inspired by and have attempted to emulate those that can engender quiet competence when faced with extreme conditions, leading others to be strong and calm through the difficult times.

Ritchie Somerville

When ideas, become tasks and tasks become projects! (Two boys and their Sports Relief Challenge)

Resilience is an oft used term, but my latest experience has highlighted that sheer enthusiasm and positivism can allow people to achieve great things.

Back in the post-Christmas period at the end of 2011 my son, Ben (now 8, then 7), was watching the Red Nose day highlights.  Engrossed, as all children can be with the cathode-ray, Ben watched the programme, occasionally chortled to himself, and occasionally looked quite sad when the images of those Comic Relief helps were shown.  At the end of the programme, there was an advert for the March 2012 Sports Relief weekend and when this was over he turned to my wife and I and said “I’d like to do something for those children”; an idea had formed.

We asked him what he would like to do and he said “I want to cycle from Edinburgh to Glasgow and back.”  For those of you not familiar with central Scotland, Edinburgh to Glasgow’s a distance of some 40 miles, as the crow flies, and closer to 52 miles by any acceptable cycling route.  Never ones to dampen the enthusiasm of our kids we said “Sure, but maybe we’ll just go one way this time!”  And so an idea became a task.

Later that evening we had friends over and Ben went off to play with his mate Lewis (9).  Later that evening they came down to where we were sitting and announced that they were going to do the cycle together!  So a team was formed, and with the support of parents and their sisters they set to work on the task at hand.  It was at this point that it began to feel more like a project.

Sponsorship areas on the Sports Relief website were set up, and e-mails sent out to friends and family.  Sponsorship money began to flow in and training cycles were set up.  Quality thresholds were set (the purchase of a new birthday bike was accelerated to allow Ben to practice in advance).  Various clothing items were bought by relatives and a route was agreed.  Logistics for support by mums and sisters was planned with pit stops every ten miles.  All the various spares you need for a long-ish bike ride (inner tubes, cables and brake-blocks, etc) were purchased, along with favourite sweeties.

More sponsorship activity was undertaken and new targets for sponsorship set as previous ones were smashed.  There were the naysayers who said Ben and Lewis wouldn’t be able to do it, but the Core team never lost faith and so the ‘go-live’ date, Saturday 24th March arrived.

Boosted by watching the extraordinary efforts of John Bishop, Ben and Lewis set off at 8.30 in the morning from Port Dundas in Glasgow on the Forth and Clyde Canal.  By 10.00 they had completed their first 10 miles and reached the Stables Inn at Kirkintilloch and their first pit stop.

Two more hours, passing anglers and rowers along the way, and they made it to the notional half way point of the Falkirk wheel for lunch.

Having had a well-earned break, the boys were off again, joining the Union Canal towpath for the push homeward.   Having navigated the spooky Falkirk Tunnel, another hour and a half in the saddle saw them arrive in Linlithgow, for their third pit stop.  Following the quick addition of an extra layer, as the east coast mist started to roll in, they set off again.

A final pit stop near the popular Bridge Inn in Ratho, and buoyed by the support of friends and family, the boys - spirits high - rolled the final miles into Edinburgh to their finishing line in Edinburgh, arriving at 6pm after 7 hours in the saddle, to be met by a throng of friends, neighbours and family.

To date the pair have raised £1,800 in support of Sports Relief.  They even picked up some coverage in the local paper, the Evening News:

The project had succeeded; they had done “something for those children”.  They had inspired people to donate and had done themselves proud by achieving their task of cycling from Glasgow to Edinburgh without incident, or the need for the use of incentives by their fathers (rugby tickets and Lego were in reserve, but not required – just don’t tell the boys).

Going back to that December evening Ben had set himself a challenge that seemed big and scary, but by breaking it down into pieces that he could manage he had succeeded, a true sign of resilience.

Footnote: Shamelessly I’ll add that it is still possible to support their efforts by donating at


Ritchie's story of Ben and Lewis is a great example of resilience.  The two boys clearly show an inherent resilience in believing 'they could do it'.  They then (following Peter's comment above) inspired others to collaborate, commit and support in all manner of ways.  Some of us did so remotely through financial contribution, others were on the route cheering them on.

Interestingly Ritche, his wife, family and friends have also shown resilience in their approach to the boys.  I am sure many parents would have ridiculed such an ideal when raised by a then 7 year old.  Rather than doing so, everyone around both Ben and Lewis rallied in support and rousing the boys to achieve their goal.  

The overall benefits of which (and the amazing sum they've already raised) will be felt for some considerable time.  How wonderful!


Alastair Smart

The SIG's Gala Resilience Event at the Churchill War Rooms in London (with speaker Stephen Carver), is only 6 weeks away!

I am hugely disappointed that I can't go - love the idea of looking at history for PM lessons learned, and as a history geek what better excuse for a visit to the War Rooms! 

The speakers at last months full day event in conjunction with the SWWE Branch included Ranjit Sidhu's 'Lessons from the Titanic' which was another great historical twist on PM. 

If you were there and are happy to share your feedback publically it would be great to hear your thoughts, or have you signed up for the November event?

What other historical Resilience examples have people seen applied?