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Joint APM / RICS conference - project leadership

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I attended this event on behalf of the people SIG and found it to be very thought inspiring and a worthwhile way to spend a day. It highlights my own views and experience that, as we emerge from recession, there is a new emphasis on the role of project manager as organisational change leader – which has perhaps been forgotten in more recent years.

The need for all organisations to recognise, nurture, and offer opportunities to develop these people centred skills amongst their project staff also received quite a bit of attention. It is clear that once again, public and private sector organisations are thinking about how they might do more to retain their most experienced staff as more opportunities inevitably arise in the upturn, and what more they can do to ensure people are happy and challenged in their employment, and are deployed to the maximum benefit of their employer, at a time that many operate in an increasing context of change.

The event, of course, had a bias to the construction sector with much of the content being fed from reports from construction related activity, but that did not mean that the lessons were all sector specific. There was much of wider application and interest to the Project Management profession in general.

A highlight for me (perhaps as a public sector employee myself) was the session by Peter Hansford (Peter is the Government’s Chief Construction Advisor). Peter's presentation was centred around a message (from the accompanying Government strategy) of what would be required of the construction industry in future, and indeed the increasing need for a leadership role from APM and RICs members in helping to deliver that strategy, particularly as they work on government projects in future. He emphasized that faster construction would be needed, and better whole life value from construction projects would be needed to justify large scale projects, with major reductions in building costs and a much higher emphasis on sustainable development factors. 

All of this is indicative of the change in accompanying skills and approaches that project staff in many functional disciplines will need in the near future. From ability in ‘Agile’ techniques, through ‘digital’ skills to a willingness to contribute to, and demonstrate continuous improvement in everything in the years ahead, as well as increasing sector specific knowledge of the supply chain and the environmental performance of the materials that will be used to deliver government construction.

Other highlights included:

Donnie MacNicol and Guy Griffin provided an interesting presentation based around their 10 principles for highly effective project leadership. 

These provoked some interesting questions and audience interaction. If you’re interested these are:

1.       Communicate  - effectively
2.       Consult - early and often
3.       Remember - they're only human!
4.       Plan it!
5.       Relationships are key
6.       It's simple (people stuff), but not easy
7.       Just part of managing risk - Quantifying a stakeholder reaction to the success of a project (ie what if this stakeholder reacts badly to a project?)
8.       (Be prepared to) compromise
9.       Understand what success is
10.   Take responsibility - is leadership your natural role? Whose job is it otherwise?
Julian Foster talked about the construction of T2 at Heathrow, and the continuous improvement of process, people and supplier and stakeholder relationships that had allowed this to be successfully delivered.

In the afternoon, there was a choice of interactive workshop, and I chose to spend an hour in the company of Julian Bullen and Brenda Hales who both offered some superb insight into the subject of high performing teams and how they help deliver change. 

These tend to be led by leaders who are considered by their team staff to display ‘natural behaviours’, and are:
Good Communicators
Competent/calm in their approach
Good relationships were described as key to maintaining effective brains. Brains form patterns/maps which make them averse to change. The brain is also 5 times more alert to threats than opportunities.  Workgroups and project teams form 'tribes' whether through formally or informally through getting the work done, and these teams want their leaders to do well for them. Equally exclusion or marginalisation from a team will have a performance impact.
The SCARF model was described, as something that both project staff and project leaders should be mindful of, particularly when they are dealing with stakeholders and the need to change:
Status - Threat/reaction
Certainty - Roles and responsibilities (matrices)to describe what we want
Autonomy - Let them do things their way
Relatedness - Relationships are important - try and find out something you didn't know about the other person each time you meet them
Fairness - Discuss changes and the implications. Repetition is often needed to get people to change. Most people resist most change most of the time - Fight, flight, freeze.
The SCARF model was described as being useful for increasing self-awareness and
• Developing self-control
• Increasing awareness of others
• Reminding us how easy it is to threaten survival
• Identifying a better way to achieve the required objective
The SCARF model can be used to help identify hidden 'bad behaviours' in others, and help you decide what you might do differently to help tackle them and bring about the required change.
In all the message was clear – in a world where change in context and project operations is increasing all the time, success does not come from ever more sophisticated process and management reporting, but by skilled people who are effectively led and given every opportunity to perform at their best.

The event will take place again in February 2015, and I would thoroughly recommend it.


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