The challenges of leading project teams in the current world, and top tips to navigate the future of project delivery – insights from APM conference

Carmen Campos

Two weeks ago, I had the privilege of attending the APM CONFERENCE in Coventry, and one of the key takeaways for me was gaining a broader understanding of the new challenges that project professionals are facing in the coming years. In this article, I wanted to summarise three of the key challenges and share with you some valuable tips I learned:

1. Effectively communicating with people across different generations.

It has become more and more common to work with project teams from two or three (or even four!) generations. Day 1 keynote speaker Dr Paul Redmond offered some great insights on the different communication styles and slang words of Boomers, Gen X, Millennials, and now, Gen Z and how they work together to deliver successful projects. For example, Gen X may prefer more direct and effective communication such as phone calls for urgent matters, whereas Millennials and Gen Z may be more comfortable with other digital communication methods, including social media, and instant messaging. By understanding and respecting the communication preferences of each generation, you can foster more effective and meaningful interactions in projects.

2. Leading teams in today’s fast changing and digital world.

The challenges of the rapid advances of technology and the effect AI tools may have on the way we deliver projects was discussed by several speakers. Thimon De Jong highlighted in his day 2 keynote the significance of good mental health to develop resilience to overcome challenges and achieve your full potential. Thimon pointed out that young people’s fear of the future is becoming a key contributing factor to the mental health crisis, and emphasised the importance of getting older individuals to explain their optimism to younger generations to maintain a positive mindset. Open conversations about mental health amongst project teams, and in general at the workplace, are critical in staying mentally healthy. Thimon encouraged project professional to start these honest conversations with individuals by simply asking: ‘’what do you do to stay mentally healthy?’’

3. Embedding sustainability in your projects.

Embedding sustainability throughout the project lifecycle while optimising project delivery is a challenge for many project professionals and organisations in the current climate. Environmental, social, and economic considerations are engrained in projects from the outset and considered in every phase of a project. Speakers from APM Sustainability Interest Group encouraged project professionals to incorporate sustainability objectives in the project success criteria. It is also key to engage actively with all the internal and external project stakeholders in the establishment of sustainable practices and principles to ensure everyone supports sustainability agenda, so that it becomes the norm.

So what can we do to navigate the future and overcome these challenges? Here are my 3 top tips:

1. Develop emotional intelligence to build empathy and trust with diverse project teams working in a digital world.

Eddie Oben offered some great insights at the APM conference on the importance of emotional intelligence (EQ) and how for project professionals this sometimes could be even more crucial than technical capabilities to deliver the desired project outcomes.

2. Learn and grow continuously.

Bridge the gap between the skills you currently possess and those that are needed and keep track of it in a Continuing Professional Development (CPD) log. Developing new skills and broadening your understanding on wider areas will allow you to keep abreast of the current best practices and equip you better to handle unexpected project challenges more effectively. The APM Competence Framework (see Competence Framework | APM) sets out twenty-nine competences based around outcomes that project professionals need to achieve for effective project, programme, portfolio management and project management office (PMO). Expanding your breath of knowledge on competences such as Benefits management, Portfolio shaping, Capability development, or Capacity planning (even if these may not seem part of your core role) will provide you with a more holistic understanding of your organization and develop your strategic thinking. Identifying what skills are important to you and developing your knowledge in those areas can not only increase the chances of sucessful project outcomes but also enhance your professional growth and career prospects.

3. Actively embrace change.

Projects are inherently dynamic and unpredictable. Embracing change and being able to quickly adapt is crucial to overcome project challenges. Whether it’s technological advancements, regulatory or sociological changes, being well-rounded helps in navigating these changes smoothly. Fostering a more diverse, inclusive and resilient working culture will allow you to develop innovative solutions and adapt more readily to changes in the project environment.

What do you think will be the major challenges of leading project teams in the coming years? What are the top survival skills that can equip project professionals to navigate the future successfully? I would love to hear your views, please write them in the comments.

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