A Portfolio Manager is a senior role within the project, program and portfolio environment in your organization. Typically, this role is responsible for overseeing the governance and management of all the projects and programs within a portfolio.
A large part of portfolio management is making sure that budgets and people are assigned to the projects that will drive the organization’s performance and help you get closer to achieving your strategic goals.
The right person will help you achieve your strategic goals and keep the company moving forward, delivering projects successfully time after time.
Here are the top skills to look for in a portfolio manager.
The main benefit of portfolio management is to align investment with strategy. That means your Portfolio Manager has to have a good idea of what the strategy is and how projects can be created to be the vehicle that delivers that strategy.
It’s rare that just one project is needed to hit a strategic goal. You have to have a long-term view of what enabling projects are required that create the environment and foundations for other projects to build on. Over time, the strategic goals come closer, but only because the portfolio management team have chosen the right projects to do at the right time to deliver the right result.
That’s done by maintaining the portfolio register: the log of in-flight and upcoming projects along with any that are cancelled or on hold. That provides a complete picture of the work being done by the company at any time and what is prioritized.
This can also help with resource planning: understanding the strategic demands on the portfolio will help identify the priority of projects and therefore what’s going to be worked on in the future. That will drive resource demand and help provide the data for capacity planning.
The Portfolio Manager might not be the one with the bank details but they do have to have a strong head for numbers.
The person in this role needs to optimize the portfolio value by assessing and prioritizing projects against the background of market conditions and competitor analysis. They need to be comfortable understanding financial reporting and the monetary consequences of making portfolio decisions such as switching around project priorities.
Financial acumen is also helpful when it comes to benefits management and realization. To ensure the projects are delivering the benefits expected, the Portfolio Manager could be involved with benefits tracking.
As well as having a head for figures, the Portfolio Manager needs to be able to manipulate data of all kinds.
One of the functions of a portfolio team is to produce reports that show progress, performance and other key metrics for the portfolio as a whole. Even if the reports themselves are generated by an enterprise portfolio management tool or created by an analyst in the team, the person in the leadership role needs to be able to confidently interpret and communicate the data.
They will also have a say in what data is collected and tracked over time to help identify trends.
The Portfolio Manager should have strong decision making skills: knowing when to involve a wider group of stakeholders for input, when to put forward recommendations, and when to make the decision themselves.
They should be able to weigh up different options and then confidently make a choice. And do all that while inspiring the team to deliver on that decision – even if it wasn’t the solution the team wanted to implement.
All portfolios carry an element of risk because you’re planning how to tie up your capital over potentially quite a long period of time.
It’s important that your Portfolio Manager has experience in risk management because the job is often a balancing act. Which projects go ahead to create competitive advantage? If the project is not successful, what have we stopped from going ahead by making that choice?
Risk is often considered a negative thing, but you’d want a Portfolio Manager to demonstrate they understood about positive risk as opportunity, so as to take every advantage for maximizing the return on investment across the portfolio.
There might only be one Portfolio Manager, but you’re likely to need a team of project delivery professionals at all levels, all working to support the same goals. Leadership skills are therefore essential.
Some of those resources may report into the Portfolio Manager; others may have a direct report line into another function or leader. You don’t have to be a line manager to demonstrate leadership, but good people management skills are going to help you succeed in the role.
This skill is also going to come in handy when working with other departments – portfolio management spans silos so it’s important to be able to build good relationships with the leadership teams across the business. Stakeholder engagement is also key.
Project controls and governance
Finally, the Portfolio Manager is key to ensuring that the portfolio actually provides the return on investment that the business is expecting – and that means supporting the projects to complete successfully.
Program managers and project managers also have a role to play here, and at portfolio level, the job is more about providing appropriate corporate governance and oversight at a high level, while being able to dig into the detail and understand performance issues that could potentially affect the portfolio as a whole.
One way to achieve this is to ensure that there are adequate tools and processes in place for project controls. From Project Board meetings to forecasting, the Portfolio Manager has huge influence over how change is delivered. They should be responsible for creating an environment where everyone is set up for success, with the tools they need to do the job.
For example, earned value management tools may need to be implemented to provide robust performance reporting, and the team may want to set up new key performance metrics to track success.
Portfolio management plays an important role in any business, and it’s crucial to get the right person in post. Looking for the core skills above will help you find either a contract or permanent employee who can support your growth and strategic goals for this essential function.