Characteristics of great Project Executives

Characteristics of great executives
Great projects need great project leaders. While the role of the Project Manager is recognised and well understood, that of the Project Executive is not, despite being an essential and critical one.

Project Executives are often senior, board level individuals who take on the strategic responsibility of a project on behalf of their organisation. This could be a CEO taking on the overall responsibility for a major technological transformation, a government Minister “owning” the development of a new policy or a business owner overseeing the development of a new product or service.

Based on our experience of managing a range of strategy, technology, marketing and construction projects, we set out below six characteristics of great Project Executives:

1. A strong sense of vision

They have a strong sense of vision for their overall organisation and its long-term direction. They direct projects and empower their teams with this vision as a key part of their moral anchor.

2. Being “flexible” decision makers

They are “flexible” decision makers: Aristotle in the Nicomachean ethics wrote that although steadfastness is a virtue, there are times when it is dangerous to adhere too rigidly to fixed opinions[1]. Good project leaders make decisions on the basis of evidence. And if evidence points out that an existing course of action or an opinion should change, they are flexible enough to change a project’s course and even, terminate it.

3. Being the “agents of change”

They are effective “agents of change”: Great Project Executives are clear about a project’s “theory of change” – the reason (justification) a project’s existence serves and its connection to the overall organisational vision. This clarity allows them to keep the project on the right course, even during stormy project conditions.

4. Create the capacity to deliver

They create the capacity to deliver: project success depends on making the right resources, both in terms of capability and capacity, available to a project. Effective Project leaders recognise this and on the basis of evidence, they create the right conditions in terms of resources – including their own time commitment – for project success.

5. Having the “political nous”

Great Project Executives have a high degree of “political nous”. This allows them to attract allies, form alliances and generate support for a project, from a wide stakeholder base.

6. Being Human

Above all, they are Human. In a leadership environment where Artificial Intelligence, Big Data and digital communications dominate much of our working life, effective project leaders have a high degree of emotional intelligence. This allows them to authentically empower people, demonstrate genuine empathy, value their peers individuality and turn individuals into motivated and effective teams.

[1] Edith Hall, Aristotle’s Way, 2019.