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Servant Leadership in PMO Management: A Path to Success

By Jeff Zircher
October 4, 2023

Project Management Offices (PMOs) play a pivotal role in ensuring that projects are executed successfully within an organization. However, the traditional hierarchical management approach is evolving, giving rise to the concept of servant leadership within PMOs.

Servant leadership is a leadership philosophy where the leader’s primary focus is on serving and empowering team members within the PMO. In this blog, I’ll delve into how servant leadership can revolutionize PMO management by attracting and developing top talent, refining processes to world-class standards, and leveraging technology for unparalleled efficiency and effectiveness.

Attracting and Developing Talent

  1. The Talent Challenge. In today’s competitive business landscape, attracting and retaining top project management talent is a constant challenge. PMOs need skilled professionals who can navigate complex projects and ensure results are delivered. A leader that embodies the philosophy of servant leadership has a much greater chance of retaining these key talented resources.
  2. Servant Leadership Approach. Servant leaders prioritize the growth and well-being of their team members. By creating a culture of trust, empowerment, and continuous learning, they attract and retain top talent by fostering a climate conducive to high employee engagement.
  3. Mentoring and Coaching. Servant leaders are mentors and coaches, guiding their team members to develop their skills and advance in their careers. This approach not only enhances individual capabilities but also contributes to the overall success of the PMO.
  4. Tangible Benefits. Employee engagement, reduced turnover, and improved performance are tangible benefits of servant leadership within PMOs. High morale in a positive work climate led to higher productivity and better project outcomes.

Utilizing World-Class Processes

  1. The Significance of Processes. Well-defined and standardized processes are the backbone of effective project management. Ask yourself and your team: Are our processes documented? Are our documented processes known by the team? And finally, are our documented processes respected? PMOs need to ensure that their processes are efficient and aligned with industry best practices and supported and followed by the team.
  2. Servant Leadership’s Role. Servant leaders encourage collaboration, innovation, and a commitment to continuous process improvement. They actively involve team members in process refinement, leading to more agile and adaptable PMOs. Don’t consider processes a finished work in terms of “best practice” but continue to strive for improvement in the search for “better practices”.
  3. Case Study. At Caterpillar, we’ve been on a continuous improvement journey in the PMO for more than ten years. We’ve taken many different and evolving approaches to driving lean into our processes. Our team leans into this philosophy, strives to innovate, and reduce waste, while delivering more value to business partners of the PMO team. Our servant leaders in the PMO create a culture where the team has streamlined project initiation, execution, and monitoring processes such that the team can support 40% more project volume than in prior years.

Applying Proper Technology

  1. Technology in PMOs. In today’s digital age, technology is integral to project management. PMOs rely on tools and software for task tracking, resource allocation, and creating visually impactful reporting that enable more crisp and agile decision making.
  2. Servant Leadership and Technology. Servant leaders ensure that technology serves the PMO team and the project teams the PMO supports, not the other way around. They prioritize user-friendly tools and workflows that enhance productivity and collaboration.
  3. Selecting the Right Tools. PMO servant leaders can empower a well put-together team of thought leaders in the PMO and carefully select technology solutions that align with their goals and values. This may involve evaluating project management software, communication tools, and data analytics platforms.
  4. Best Tool Wins. Effective PMOs successfully integrate the right technology under servant leadership. These organizations achieve improved project management capabilities, reduced administrative overhead, and enhanced decision-making through data-driven insights. In the end, the best PMOs put the right information in the right leader’s hands at the ideal time to enable a better business decision.

Conclusion

Servant leadership isn’t just a buzzword; it’s a transformative philosophy that can empower PMOs to excel in attracting and developing talent, refining processes to world-class standards, and leveraging technology for unparalleled efficiency and effectiveness. By prioritizing your team’s well-being and professional development, fostering a culture of continuous improvement, and selecting technology that serves the team’s needs, PMO leaders can drive success and create a positive work environment. Embracing servant leadership isn’t just a management approach; it’s a journey toward excellence in project management.

Jeff Zircher, MBA, is currently a servant leader at Caterpillar Inc, with over 30 years of leadership experience in IT, Logistics & Distribution, Marketing & Product Support, Product Development, and Project Management. Jeff currently leads an enterprise PMO service team for Caterpillar, with over 250 team members spanning the United States, Northern Ireland, England, India, and China. His Global Program Management team provides Project-Program-Portfolio Management, Change Management, Agile support, and Business Analytics support for nearly 2,000 projects enterprise-wide. Jeff has been a member of the PMI Global Executive Council since 2014. In collaboration with The Children’s Home Association of Illinois, Jeff and his team won the PMI Educational Foundation – Community Advancement Award in 2016.

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Disclaimer: The ideas, views, and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of International Institute for Learning or any entities they represent.

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