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Executive Leadership Is the Key to Project Success

Executive leadership for ERP projects

Conventional corporate thinking has placed any project's success or failure squarely on the shoulders of the project manager, but as the business world has evolved and scholars have delved into the matter, what makes a project successful has proved less linear. The research suggests that the keys to project success unlock from the top down, not the reverse. Strong executive leadership and sponsorship are imperative for any project management endeavor to thrive. Discover what senior management needs to know to get there. 

Leadership Competency and Project Management

A project without leadership competency is a project that has failed before it has begun. A business takes on a project to create and/or better its products, services, and systems. In addition to meeting metrics such as quality and budget, successful projects help increase profits.  Leadership competencies are the propulsive force behind that success, accounting for 35% to 44% of project success. The converse rings even truer: A lack of leadership competencies may account for nearly 60% of a project's failure. 


Executive Project Sponsorship: Empirical Support

The data suggest that attaching a senior executive with a vested interest in the project's outcome as a sponsor can improve a project's likelihood of success. Research by the Project Management Institute has shown that "actively engaged executive sponsors" is the No. 1 driver of project success. Still, less than two-thirds of projects have an assigned executive sponsor, underscoring how businesses have yet to fully appreciate the role's importance.

The Executive's Role in Project Management

What does executive leadership look like in a project management context? One marketing vice president from the health care industry said, "To be a really good executive have to have the ability to micromanage without the tendency to micromanage." The areas where senior management can be the most helpful will vary by project type but tend to fall into the following categories:

Areas Where Executive Leadership Can Most Help Projects

  • Drumming up support among other executives
  • Removing barriers
  • Managing stakeholders
  • Intervening when matters escalate
  • Serving as a champion of a project

Leadership Skills That Are Keys to Project Success

Companies that have executive sponsors who frequently display these five critical skills consistently have better project performances. 

  • Leadership
  • The ability to persuade stakeholders
  • Efficient decision-making
  • Collaborating with all stakeholder groups to find mutually advantageous solutions
  • Effective communication

Exercising these five skills improved project outcomes in four significant categories: reaching goals, finishing on time, staying within budget, and avoiding scope creep. 

Preparing Your Executive Sponsors

Companies will want to select the right people with the right skill sets for the role of project executive sponsor. Beyond that, organizations should ensure that executive sponsors have had access to proper training and personal development. Project Management Institute research indicates that external and internal training and mentoring from other executive sponsors achieve the best project outcomes. Self-study and on-the-job learning are the least effective. 

Sound project management transcends the know-how and even the project manager's skills. A successful project requires executive leadership in which the executive serves as much as a moderator as a visionary. Companies can take their projects to new heights by creating and nurturing this role.

Find out why leadership matters for a successful ERP implementation. Learn how a true leader will support you during an ERP project. Leaders will help reduce the strain on the resources of the core project team and help drive engagement throughout the community.

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