One of the strange things about being a PMO leader is that there aren’t other people doing the same job.
It’s not like a project manager, where you have a number of people in the project management role, delivering projects and (hopefully) learning from each other. The PMO leader position can be quite lonely. There’s no in-built support network. There might be other leaders at the same level on the corporate hierarchy but none will be in quite the same job, with quite the same mix of people and responsibilities.
It takes a special kind of person to succeed in this role, knowing that they need to find their subject matter peer group elsewhere. There’s an element of bravery involved, especially as PMOs aren’t always welcomed by everyone from the beginning. It’s a difficult job, and one that is as challenging as it is rewarding.
To help you find the right kind of person, we’ve put together this discussion about the competencies you should expect to see in a successful PMO leader.
PMO leaders need to be skilled in many areas of the business. They should have:
- Business acumen
- Legal and regulatory understanding, specific to your industry or marketplace
- Human resource management skills
They also need an awareness of the standards and policies that affect your operations and what they mean for the projects that are running.
They are business managers, at the end of the day: leaders who are assimilating large amounts of data to be able to present back recommendations and status updates to senior colleagues. All the decisions taken in the PMO should link back to business strategy, so a sense of organizational awareness and an understanding of where the company is going is crucial.
A PMO leader needs leadership skills! It’s not a surprise to think that in this job they should be able to demonstrate leadership skills for the team and model effective leadership. The project managers and other personnel in the PMO are also leading their own efforts, and it’s helpful to be lead by someone who does it well!
But what does that really look like? If you were to write down those competencies that make up ‘leadership’ you’d get a list that looks like this:
- Team building and facilitation
- Stakeholder engagement and managing politics
- Conflict management, negotiating and influencing
- Decision making
- Problem solving
And probably some more. These are all the soft skills that go into an excellent leader: someone who can both drive the team and lead from behind, helping each individual excel to the best of their abilities.
Leadership is difficult to test for, but once you see it, you’ll know.
Depending on the level of the role, and the breadth of what the role involves, your PMO leader may need some technical skills as well. For example, being able to drive the data dashboards to pull out statistics for senior management presentations.
This will depend on who else you have in the PMO who could provide technical skills if they were lacking in the leader. In many cases, where the PMO is a small team, you’ll want a leader who can fend for themselves and get stuck in when required! It’s then that those technical skills will be a great help. If you need your PMO management team to do a deep dive into a failing project, for example, they first should be able to identify that it is failing, and there’s a level of subject matter expertise that goes into that.
Much of this will be dictated by the environment and constraints of your organization.
Enthusiasm for the Subject
Finally, your PMO leaders need to be enthusiastic about project management. They need to be interested in learning about what it takes to deliver excellent project results, and to care about the people who are out there delivering.
This isn’t the kind of job where you can get any senior leader involved to manage the team. Ideally, you’d want someone who has a background in project and program delivery and who understands what it takes to deal with ambiguity.
They need to be enthusiastic about leading change, because setting up a successful PMO is about that – changing the organization to think in a different way, with a different focus on investment and risk. And they need to be able to champion the change in a way that makes it feel like a natural next step for the business, a no-brainer that is going to happen anyway and take the company to a better place.
An all-round PMO leader would ideally have all of these skills: from a deep understanding of the business vision and how to get there to hands-on technical expertise managing projects and strong leadership skills that encourage everyone to come along for the journey.
In reality, you might not find someone that excels in every area, and that’s OK. Much of the role can be learned: certainly all the technical skills can be taught if they are lacking. Attitude is so much more important.
PMOs can succeed or fail based on the person in charge, which is why it is so important to choose someone who can do a good job but also be a good leader.