Key takeaways from APMs 2021 Think Differently and Women in Project Management conference

From: Association for Project Management
Published: Tue Oct 05 2021

Blog posted by: Katherine Collins, 04 Oct 2021.

Learning the tools and skills for success in the project profession has never been easier with this year's Think Differently conference. The virtual event held from 20 to 24 September, featuring our Women in Project Management conference, delivered a range of engaging sessions which benefit our project workspace, teams, stakeholders, and our own individual practice. Here are some of our key takeaways:

We must raise the profile of project teams in our organisation

Jo Stanford, head of project profession, Health Education England states that having project professionals as members of the C-suite isn't going to happen overnight. For it to be is seen as an essential role in the Executive team and Board you need to cultivate and develop knowledgeable ambassadors to fly the flag for project teams and promote their specialist skills.

This isn't a solo journey. You will progress quicker by building your network of collaborators around a shared vision; creating a dynamic brand for the profession to recruit more champions and followers; and using the Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness, Fairness (SCARF) model to engage decision makers and deliver a compelling pitch that sells your delivery of their vision of success.

Create a positive and productive team environment that gets results

Jo Osburn-Hughes, land chief operating officer, Defence Equipment and Support explained that one of the most important aspects of successful collaboration is how leaders can harness the talents of all the individuals in the team and create the right culture which encourages diversity of thought, innovation, and creativity. By doing this you can unlock their potential and empower them to deliver the collective aim. Clear and thoughtful communication is also vital for building the right and effective relationships which is key to unlocking the full potential of the team and achieving success.

Deliberately design your team for agile team working

Teams take months to form and be performant so it's important to support long lived teams by bringing the work to the team, not the team to the work. Scott Russell, transformation lead and Carolyn Hill, project manager from Nordcloud explained that understanding the team's communication at all levels will help dictate the design of the solutions the team will deliver.

The main way we learn is from feedback, so conduct short retrospectives with your team on a regular basis. Iterate, adjust, pivot, and measure the outcomes to build awesome teams.

Acknowledge and stop burnout to thrive in the project workspace

Research suggests that burnout is on the increase following our experiences with the pandemic. This means that we all need to be more vigilant about our mental health. Sharon De Mascia, Chartered occupational psychologist shared some practical steps to help reduce job demands which includes talking to your manager and peers when you're overloaded with work. Using active relaxation, practising self-compassion, gaining perspective and emotional balance, and challenging unhelpful self-talk makes it less likely for you to experience burnout. We cannot always influence job demands and the support that we get but we can invest our energy in building and maintain our psychological resources.

Our level of happiness or mental wellness is heavily influenced by our actions and thoughts. The more positive we feel, the more energetic, optimistic and focused we are. This all has a huge impact on success and confidence in the workplace. Which leads us to our next point...

Boost your happiness for success

Many conference attendees in our virtual audience said they are super-busy, so here are some quick tips from leadership coach, Sarah Perugia to ensure you boost your happiness:

  • Get out into nature - maybe do one meeting a day on the phone as you walk round the park
  • Perform acts of kindness - who could you say thank you to today?
  • Take time every day to practice gratitude - this rewires your brain and impacts how you experience the world.
  • Move more. You are designed to move, even a 30 second stretch between calls resets your physiology and helps you feel positive
  • Get away from technology - a daily tech break from news, social media and message alerts helps us be more present and sleep better.

Build emotional connections with stakeholders

Ruth Ofori-Danso, change consultant at PA consulting explained that we need to actively consider the emotions we want to evoke in our stakeholders and take them on a journey by using tools such as workshops to spark their interest. Once an emotional connection has been established, it's important to maintain a transparent two-way dialogue with stakeholders to help them achieve their aims in the organisation by using focus groups, surveys and intentional conversations.

Change should then be clearly communicated to middle managers so they can effectively communicate change to others. By utilising reward and recognition initiatives and a space for physical and virtual drop ins we can 'empower the middle'.

This also helps us deal with challenging stakeholders. To successfully manage difficult conversations, we need to create psychological safety for our stakeholders so they can feel safe and calm and not prompt to reaction as if they are in danger. Consultant, Natalia Alvarez highlights that when facing challenging conversations, choosing to connect rather than convince allows to generate enough psychological safety to have better conversations.


About the Author

Katherine Collins

Katherine joined Association for Project Management (APM) two years ago as a senior event coordinator focusing on the event operations of APM flagship events. Her previous experience as an event manager has predominantly been in major sporting events and stadium hospitality, working closely with both Twickenham and Edgbaston stadium.

Company: Association for Project Management

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