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Project Management 2019

Leaders must adapt to huge growth in project-based work

iStock / Getty Images Plus / fizkes

Christoffer Ellehuus

CEO, Strategy Execution

Leaders are spending less time on operational tasks and more on project-based work, says project management training experts Strategy Execution, but do they have the right skills to deliver success?

The world of work is changing from being operations-led to being increasingly project-based, but organisations can struggle to change their leaders’ mindset.

Christoffer Ellehuus, CEO at project management training experts Strategy Execution, says professionals and managers are less involved in tasks associated with running the business and more immersed in dynamic project-driven work designed to ultimately change the business.

“In the past, about 90% of leaders’ time was focused on operational tasks and only 10% on changing the business. That has now completely changed and 70% of time is spent on changing the business, which is the main driver of the project-based economy growth,” says Ellehuus. “Digitisation is changing the nature of work and we estimate a 20% growth in project-based roles over the next decade.”

As an increasing amount of traditional, operational and repetitive jobs are digitised, employees’ remaining work will be focused on running various projects and finding innovative ways to ensure businesses remain competitive and sustainable.

Are organisations ready?

As companies become more global, networked and complex, their leaders often lack the necessary adaptive mindset required in today’s work environment. In fact, 83% say this is the biggest barrier to future success.

“The situation is complex because things are changing so fast and everyone has to learn as they go along, but leaders must become better at managing projects,” says Ellehuus. “Many are grappling with what this shift means for individual employee’s jobs and to their organisations.”

He says leaders need a combination of critical technical, creative and softer people skills and behaviours plus a good understanding of how their organisation makes money.

Understanding your own business purpose

Ellehuus is also adamant that in this new world of work companies must understand clearly what their purpose is. Why do they exist and what difference do they make?

Priorities often change at any time during the year. A business might have to respond to the actions of a competitor, for example. As such, the big three- or five year strategic plans have become less relevant, while the organisation’s purpose should remain unchanged as a guide to individual project priorities.

Ellehuus says organisations can develop the right leadership mindset, but managers need to have the authority to act like a leader and learn from their mistakes. They should also be incentivised to be more creative and adaptive.

Critical skillsets for the future

Five top skill areas that organisations need to tackle to help their leaders, drawn from the results of the ‘Emerging Trends in Project-Based Work’ study:

  1. Many leaders require stronger business skills and insights to understand an organisation’s strategic priorities, said 86% or respondents. Only then can they select the right work to be done and eliminate projects or work that should not be started or continued.
  2. 86% of respondents also felt leaders need help to develop a problem-solving mindset and tool-kit so they can resolve issues in different ways and think more innovatively about the projects they are working on.
  3. Many of those questioned (83%) want to see as much focus on building the right adaptive leadership mindsets as there is on boosting technical project management skills.
  4. Project managers also need to build a portfolio of management skills, according to 83% of those asked. This will help them to become better at prioritising competing projects to meet shifting business needs.
  5. Eight out of 10 respondents believe just as much attention needs to be paid to improving softer interpersonal skills as to boosting technical skills as the evolution to more project-driven work brings uncertainty.

“Projects are getting increasingly difficult to execute with just traditional project management skills,” says Ellehuus. “Today, projects are being managed in volatile, dynamic, and complex business and organisational environments.”

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