Business success depends on the delivery of an ever-changing, ever-growing series of projects, programs, and portfolios. As a business leader, you must effectively manage talent against new demands and requirements in order to drive success. Foundational project management techniques, while necessary, are by themselves not sufficient in helping leaders achieve the growth, business transformation, and accelerated short- and long-term results demanded of them. Because companies run in distributed, matrixed, global environments with tight resources, and talent is at a premium, getting big picture initiatives understood and embraced throughout the organization is challenging. The need for a holistic approach to executing strategy, top-down and bottom-up, via every project leader in-between, has never been more essential to achieving bottom-line results.

Consequently, savvy business leaders are recasting corporate priorities, major initiatives, and everyday work as projects (or project portfolios). They are reviewing organizational structures, project teams, and talent maps in the context of strategy execution and performance improvement. While traditional, technical skills are still important, there’s a broad realization of the importance of a more adaptive leadership style to getting work done.

Adaptive leadership combines bottom-up and top-down approaches. From the bottom-up, it works to align resources, people, and processes with corporate objectives and goals. From the top-down, it acknowledges groups of projects as interwoven and complex, teams as collaborative, and methodologies, blended.

Adaptive project leadership

Leveraging adaptive leadership as a strategic advantage requires a new way of thinking, communicating, and working. Project leaders must first identify and understand the business context in which they are operating—one that is more complex than ever. Next, they must ensure initiatives are aligned to the executive leadership’s vision, mission, and strategic goals to move the organization ahead.

Setting the scene from the beginning can yield increased business performance, higher levels of collaboration across projects and people on project teams, and common language and tools that increase work teams’ productivity. By combining adaptive thinking with strategically aligned project management skills, organizations can better prepare for uncertain and unpredictable market shifts and business challenges. The result: complexity chasms shrink, alignment and focus rise, and individuals and teams understand their work in the larger context more clearly. This all adds up to a culture that not only manages complexity, but also embraces it.

Assessing what you have, what you need, and how to get there

With complexity on the rise and much of the workforce devoted to executing against strategic initiatives, one way to pursue success is to invest in the competencies required to deliver projects effectively. In order to be successful in a complex operating environment, leaders need to evaluate teams across a range of skills that support strong strategy execution alignment.

Beyond basic skills needed to manage projects are the increasingly critical set of interpersonal skills and adaptive project leadership capabilities required to excel in a complex environment.

An adaptive project leader should:

  • Revel in detail but thrive in ambiguity
  • Exude enthusiasm and take initiative
  • Accept responsibility and accountability
  • Adapt and respond quickly
  • Think big-picture and collaborate

Ensure success

The role adaptive project leadership plays in linking corporate vision and strategy to the leaders and teams doing the work is clear. But none of this change can play out without an enterprise culture and executive leadership that values project-based work and invests in performance improvement for project leaders and teams.

Business leaders need every available resource to deliver on key initiatives and achieve organizational objectives. The right training can help project leaders and managers gain increased business understanding, respond swiftly to challenges, and deliver project results aligned to key strategies.