Are Organizations Hiring for Leadership and Business Skills?

I am continuing with my series on the PM Skills Webinar we just held (the webinar recording itself is here, registration required). My first post discussed how to hire for the right project, leadership, and business skills. That is the essence of our research findings: how do we make sure that we have the right skill mix. The second answered a natural follow-on question: do job descriptions really address this skill shift?

Today’s question carried this line of thought into the hiring decision itself.

“Do you see any significant shift in hiring skills from the practitioner skill set to leadership and strategy?”  

First, I believe that our findings strongly imply this is happening. Senior leaders and practitioners differ on both the relative importance of these skills, as well as the skills that need improvement. It makes sense that leaders will – or at least, should – hire for these skills.

Leaders-and-PMs-Differ

This question hit on why PMP continuing education requirements will soon change. The requirements for the PMP have always included the kind of experience that would bring leadership and strategy to the table. That may have been true 15 years ago. However, where the PMP used to signify total project management excellence, it now signifies tools and techniques mastery.  Project managers who simply run projects without reference to their larger leadership and business environment are becoming a commodity. As I related during the webinar, even PMI recognized that the PMP – and by extension project management skills – was only “table stakes.” It allows you in the game, but nothing more.

A Global Executive Council counterpart of mine told a story that laid out the problem in terms of experience. He had to counsel a project manager who was very itchy to advance but was perplexed that his PMP hadn’t taken him further.  The council member put it to him bluntly: “A PMP is worth about two years of experience in our organization, which is something … but it isn’t equivalent to leading and delivering a multi-year project or program.”

Speaking for myself, when I interview a candidate, I most of my time probing about whether he or she understands how to think about business. I will, of course, ask a few questions about key project management topics. Even then, I focus on the areas where I believe leadership and business savvy come most into play. For example:

  • How do you think about the different elements of the triple constraint and their relative importance? Provide an example where you had to drive tradeoffs among time, scope, and resources.
  • How do you go about evaluating scope elements and how they fit into the strategic intent of the project? Tell me about a project where you or your team had to navigate a dispute about project or product scope.
  • Describe the last change control process you ran on a major project. What were the most challenging aspects managing change control on that project?

I found that the best candidates could give solid and convincing discussions around these three topics. A solid grasp of the leadership and business issues involved bring clarity to the tradeoffs, negotiations, and communications inherent in project management. As we have found in studies of project failure, beware the project manager who seals himself off in a room with a MS Project schedule or dives into issue resolution. Those activities are never – at least in my experience – the root cause of project success or failure. Poor leadership engagement, ignorance of key contracts, or misunderstanding the strategic framework behind the project are much more likely causes.

Note: This is adapted from a post originally posted on the PM College blog. This is the third of a series of posts based on questions asked during our latest webinar covering the newly released research report, Project Manager Skills Benchmark 2015.

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2 Responses

  1. […] Paul Ritchie presents evidence that hiring managers are putting more emphasis on leadership, strategy, and business skills when hiring PM’s. […]

  2. […] Are Organizations Hiring for Leadership and Business Skills? […]

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