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Author  Allan Thomson

ProPath Product Ambassador, Axelos

November 5, 2021 |

 3 min read

  • Blog
  • Project management
  • Professional development
  • Skills

Resilience in project and programme management isn’t necessarily about being tough.

In an environment where people are managing change, it’s more about someone who has the ability to continue to get a job done while providing a team with the confidence to join them on the journey.

Project and programme managers working under pressure in organizations facing volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) conditions, need to be able to change tack quickly with limited resources and often exacting stakeholders and customers.

So, why is resilience now firmly on the agenda for employees and workplaces?

Having a level of resilience enables people to cope when adversity hits in projects and programmes. And while some workplaces refer to it as a “soft skill”, it is in fact an essential business skill.

There are, in my opinion, five things that define resilience:

  • · Strength and perseverance

Projects and programmes are not easy endeavours and they require strength of character to do them consistently well. Giving up or showing negative behaviours starts a downward spiral.

  • · Flexibility to adjust to stressful experiences

In high-risk activities like projects and programmes, there’s a lot of emotion involved – including fear – and teams look to their managers for guidance and leadership.

  • · Navigating the unknowns

You need the capacity to bounce back from adversity and difficult experiences in change initiatives – growing and learning from mistakes (quickly) – while being up against the clock constantly.

  • · Thriving in a change environment

This is not just about knowing your best practice method, such as PRINCE2, but being comfortable in yourself and your role. Projects and programmes are likely to be with us forever as ways that organizations deliver change, so people need to be able to thrive in these environments.

  • · Self-assessing skills

This is about asking yourself how resilient you feel today and how comfortable you are with the work you’re doing, leading teams and communicating. Answering this leads to greater self-awareness.

The risks of not being resilient

Without resilience, individual performance will be affected. The worst outcome for a project manager is ceasing to be the go-to person; instead, people start to approach stakeholders and the picture becomes confusing. Also, stakeholders will begin to question the project manager’s suitability.

Equally, having less resilience affects decision making, which is central to projects and programmes. A lack of resilience among the project board, leading to delayed decisions or none, can kill an initiative.

How can resilience be improved?

Organizations can help their managers and teams improve resilience in several ways:

  • · Providing mentors

Discussing issues with a mentor is a support mechanism, with the mentor passing on experiences and suggesting ways of working to avoid the “potholes in the road”.

  • · Openness with line managers

Team members should be able to have open discussions with managers about how they feel in a project or programme – and their resilience ought to be on the agenda.

  • Open culture

Honest discussion about improvements and inclusivity are good business behaviours – especially in what can be the lonely world of project management.

  • · Colleagues and peers

Talking to your peers through informal catch-ups or coffee meetings helps to air problems, get input and restore confidence.

  • Professional development

A continuous evaluation and assessment of skills – and identified training needs – will help employees’ resilience.

  • Networks

Having people you can talk to outside your organization is helpful and supportive when things are not going well.

Project and programme managers are dealing with so much at once – change, stakeholders, teams, the project or programme board – that it’s essential to be resilient.

Developing greater resilience makes working in change initiatives a brilliant and enjoyable career, with the confidence and knowledge that you are bringing new capabilities to your organization. So, the earlier you start to develop it, the better.