Characteristics of a Sustainable Project Manager (3 of 9) “Change Agent”

This third installment of Characteristics of a Sustainable Project Manager focuses on the “Change Agent.”

Peter Drucker is famous for many quotes, none more so than “The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence; it is to act with yesterday’s logic.”

Characteristic #3: Change Agent — challenges business-as-usual mindset, embraces change, seizes opportunities, develops new ideas, acts positively, is opportunistic, interacts well with others.

On the surface, someone with experience in managing projects or is business savvy would read these and say “duh, everyone knows this.” Let’s be clear though. Managing projects using the atypical programming that most PMs have does not include this. It is my observation that the vast majority of project managers simply do what they are told. This needs to follow ToysRus, Fuji Film, and BlockBuster Video to the annals of death by non-innovation.

In order to achieve a lasting change in any endeavor, the focus on how change is managed is ten times more important than what the expected outcome is.

Projects = change. According to Mckinsey, 70 percent of complex, large-scale change programs don’t reach their stated goals. They state that common pitfalls are:

  1. Lack of employee engagement
  2. Inadequate management support
  3. Poor or nonexistent cross-functional collaboration
  4. Lack of accountability.

They go on to state that sustaining a transformation’s impact typically requires a major reset in mindsets and behaviors—something that few leaders know how to achieve.

Where does that leave project managers?

Look around you right now. How many products that you depend on every day are the outcome of a project and at that, how many are in their second or third generation or more?  Anyone still using their original iPhone?  How about a blackberry? This takes me back to the opening Drucker quote.  Do you manage projects using old logic? …no saying “I use agile” doesn’t cut it, sorry.

In today’s world, disruption and turbulence by upstarts are scarier to C-Suite than the biggest competitor.  Outside-the-box thinking, innovation, and the war on business-as-usual are the driving forces of business disruption.  Examples such as Purple Mattress, Uber/Grab/Lyft/, and AirBnB are just a few.

In order to transcend from your everyday project manager to a change agent, the related traits must define who you are, not a mere aspiration or goal.

Think about some of your projects and ask yourself the following questions.

  1. Do I engage project sponsors and stakeholders by asking “why are we doing this?”, “how will this be integrated, adopted, and more importantly accepted?”, and “have we considered all of the impacts?”
  2. Am I willing to forego an older approach to try something new?
  3. Do I regularly seek out opportunities for improvement if there are benefits to be realized (even if they might be out of scope) and recommend them for consideration?
  4. Would others say that I am a positive and influential leader?
  5. Do I stay cool during a conflict and am I a master at resolving ambiguity?

The more you can answer yes to these questions, the better position you are in to lead sustainable projects.

Keeping track of the series.

1Benefits Focused
2Inclusive Leader
3Change Agent

For more on Sustainable Project Management, check out our new book from on or the iBooks store.

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Dr. Joel Carboni

Dr. Joel Carboni is a highly respected expert in sustainable project management. He is a graduate of Ball State University and holds a Ph.D. in Sustainable Development and Environment. He has over 25 years of experience in project management, including government, finance, consulting, manufacturing, and education. He is a frequent speaker at conferences and events related to project management and sustainability and has worked in more than 50 countries. In addition to serving as President Emeritus of the International Project Management Association (IPMA) in the United States and being a member of the Global advisory board, Dr. Carboni is also the founder of GPM (Green Project Management) and a visiting professor at Skema Business School. He is also the GPM representative to the United Nations Global Compact, where he was a founding signatory of the Business for Peace Initiative and the Anti-Corruption call to action and a contributor to the development of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (SDGs). Dr. Carboni is the creator of the PRiSM™ project delivery methodology and the P5 Standard for Sustainability in Project Management and has written training programs on Green and Sustainable Project Management that are offered in more than 145 countries through professional training providers, business associations, and universities. He is the lead author of the book "Sustainable Project Management."

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