10 Characteristics of a rock-star project portfolio manager

by Jan Schiller

I have been listening to leaders describe the skills they have and those they think will be of critical importance in the digital age. I have focused my attention inward to identify my own leadership success factors. Here are 10 characteristics of a rock-star project portfolio manager. Do these ten characteristics appear in your leadership wheelhouse?

Every project portfolio manager is much more than a manager; they are a leader with the responsibility of delivering an organizational strategy. Most often, achieving that strategy requires the application of technology. The world our organizations live in today is increasingly digital. In addition to being driven and having endurance, leaders in the digital age have (or will need to have) several characteristics to be a rock-star project portfolio leader:

  1. Curiosity. Be willing to explore, do something outside your comfort zone that broadens your skill set, to be open to other’s perspectives. Mario Testino said, “I think if you are curious, you create opportunities, and then if you open the doors, you create possibilities.”
  2. Adaptability. Adjust timelines and budgets instead of the scope of results if you want to achieve the intended value. Your environment will change, and likely change many times. Steven Hawking said, “Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change.”
  3. Accountability. More than one person can be responsible for realizing your project portfolio’s value; only one person should be accountable. If more than one person is accountable, accountability will not exist.
  4. The drive to be a continuous learner. My greatest reward from managing project portfolios comes from learning; new clients, new technology, new solutions, new locations. Focus on developing the deep expertise required for your role, which may differ from the learning required of your teams. Because I started my career in software development, it took me a while to realize I do not need to know software development languages to lead a team of developers.
  5. Focused on the present. Timeframes are shorter. Solution delivery horizons are closer to six months than one year. Environments are more agile and may change so much that a future goal may no longer be appropriate or relevant. Worrying about a future that may never arrive wastes energy. Remaining present helps me to be mindful and calm. Deepak Chopra said, “Life gives you plenty of time to do whatever you want to do if you stay in the present moment.”
  6. Self-aware. Working together requires a high degree of self-awareness, that ability to see yourself so accurately helps you know how to maximize your contribution to success. Self-regard helps me create the inner strength I need to overcome challenges. Self-awareness is important when creating the ideal working environment; just imagine if everyone was aware of themselves, their mental and emotional state, their relationships.
  7. Modest. Making a mistake is expected. A rapidly changing world where I do not have all the answers (or possibly, may not know what questions to ask) requires me to fail faster. Gone are the days of one person knowing it all and having all the answers. A wise man knows what he does not know, and acts accordingly.
  8. Be collaborative. You are not alone on an island. Involve the expertise of your teams, your peers, your management, your suppliers. Seek out the right team that can see the big picture. Focus on all of your resources, human and nonhuman, employees as well as technology. To best serve the world, look like the world you want to serve.
  9. Risk-aware. Risk management has never been more important given shorter timelines. Adversity to risk is normal, but do not let it stop you from identifying, communicating, and mitigating risks.
  10. Inspirational. The best leaders know how to motivate others. When you confidently and energetically create a sense of purpose, direction, and of momentum for your teams, you will set the stage for their best work. John Maxwell said, “A word of encouragement from a leader can inspire a person to reach their potential.”

What leadership qualities do you consider to be essential in a digital age?


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