Project Management Panache

questionHow do project managers get executive level panache. You know. The kind that is needed to:
• successfully deliver bad news, or
• mediate between some fearsome stakeholders, or
• work on a daily basis with adversarial departments, or
• state that the project needs to be re-scoped or cancelled.

Gulp. These are tough issues. But these are tough times. Times like this call for protecting our panache.

What’s panache? Its your distinction style. You know project managers who have a special sense of dash, verve, or flair? They seem to consistently pull off tough conversations with apparent ease and confidence. And they get noticed and get recognition and respect.

So how do project managers get panache? That’s my question of the day. Would love to get your comments on which is most important in developing senior project management leadership skills. After all, that is the result of having panache.

Which of the following most strongly contributes to project manager panache?

• Competence in the subject matter domain e.g., knowledge of a particular field – construction, web development, financial services etc.
• Competence in project management e.g., process and life cycle knowledge that provides best practice direction to team and management.
• Communication skills e.g., ability to accurately communicate information and messages about project status.
• Context flexibility e.g., adapting responses to environments – project team vs. executive presentation.
• Cultural awareness e.g., taking off our North American filter and expectations or whatever filter is cozy & comfortable to you – gender, personality, or pride.
• All the above:-)
• None of the above:-(

Looking forward to commenting on some of your answers.


4 thoughts on “Project Management Panache”

  1. Hi Rosemary,

    As someone who has been an Interim Programme and Senior Project Manager for 12 years I usually get parachuted into either deliver the impossible projects or turnaround those which are failing. It’s not a great combination. You really can’t win either way. If you are able to negotiate a path between the warring political factions and the internal teams who want you to fail and actually deliver the project then people simply say “oh but we got her here to deliver the project so what’s the big deal?”. Of course the flip side is if you aren’t able to negotiate that path then you tend to be fired (without any payoff). Thankfully that hasn’t happened many times to me!

    The key I find is to be able to quickly size up the situation, work out when to push and when to back off and most importantly, manage expectations.

    The latter is the most important, and there is a real art to this as you need to ensure that the Business Stakeholders understand the reality of the position the project is in, but at the sametime ensure they don’t think you a whiner who can’t deal with the problems.

    But if you can master that trait then you are well on your way to having Project Manager Panache and consistently delivering successful projects.



  2. Rosemary, I believe that all of the traits/skilled that you listed are necessary to develop panache, plus one more: courage. Courage to say, “You are paying me to have the hard conversations that are needed so that this project stays on time, on budget, with acceptable quality.” Without this courage, project managers will be tossed on the angry seas of disgruntled stakeholders and subject to the prevailing winds of the loudest shouters.

  3. Today I stood in front os sponsor and peers and gave 2 Chaos report figures to kick start the meeting; %64% of projects fail or run over, and 66% of requirements are irrelavant to bizvalue.

    The response was amusing.

    At work I possibly have some sort of panache. Some like it, others see it as a liability. I hav onfidence, I am flexible.

    But the kicker is that I am mpore willing to walk away from them than they are to deal with the trouble of finding a replacement. (At least this week.)

    I think the bottom line is made up of two points
    1 “Do what works for you,” and
    2. “Don’t work in fear.”

  4. User Avatar

    Executive level panache comes from golden parachutes that are put in place specifically because there are times being an effective executive means working your way out of a job. Delivering news that could end your career is much easier if you have a parachute providing you income for the next 1 to 3 years.

    I’ve never heard of a PM getting that type of a contract. In fact, most PMs are hired to be potential sacrificial lambs, the person easiest to fire if a project gets stuck in the tar pits, whatever the reason. Ironically, the better their PM skills and the better they follow PM standards from project planning, scheduling, reporting etc., the easier they are to replace. Hummmmm.

    Contextual business understanding, PM expertise, communications skills or domain knowledge will not provide protection. There are plenty of excellent PMs from the construction sector in California who are standing in unemployment lines.

    There are two other things that I could see providing enough protection to provide “Executive level panache”, having more technical expertise in a critical area than anyone else on the team or being the blood relative or a powerful executive. However, the first rarely does PM work, why would the let themselves be positioned as a sacrificial lamb and the second… probably has exactly the swagger you’re talking about.

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