Can Project Managers Make Great Change Agents?


Change is Coming. Courtesy Martin Snicer

An often ignored facet of many projects is the impact that change can have on an organization. When poorly managed, change can adversely affect its morale, productivity, growth, competitiveness, and profitability. It can also increase resistance to further change, extend projects beyond their budgets and deadlines, create undesirable divisions, and encourage valued employees to leave. 

Project management offers little guidance on how to identify the risks associated with motivating and mobilizing people to change. It does offer however, a platform for the effective implementation of complex change initiatives through structures, analysis, planning, processes, systems, and tools; which all focus on how change is designed, developed, and deployed. 

Change management on the other hand, places a greater emphasis on structured approaches for the transitioning of or leading people toward a desired state or outcome; often through the learning of new behaviours, thinking differently about roles and responsibilities, and relinquishing entrenched positions and mindsets. Managed well, people can be encouraged to be more engaged in and take ownership of the change process, working together toward a common goal and delivering the desired business results. 

Excellent cases have been made for the greater integration of project and change management within recent years. By bringing the two together, we believe that project managers as agents of change, can produce far greater value for organizations and its projects - particularly through;

  • The development of a deeper understanding of the dynamics of change,
  • Promotion of shared purpose, goals, and objectives,
  • Placing of a greater focus on reducing the risks and barriers associated with change,
  • Improvement in the alignment between the project and organization in terms of goals, values, and deliverables,
  • Promotion of more effective framework for communication, collaboration, and
  • Cultivation of a culture or environment which embraces and encourages both learning and change.

It is therefore vital, that project managers exhibit or seek to develop the key qualities or characteristics which will have a positive and significant impact on their performance as change agents. These include;

  • Having faith. Despite careful planning, tight project controls, timely communication, and risk management, something can always go wrong. Pray continuously for your project and those impacted by it. Have faith that God will help you navigate its complexities and deliver upon expected business results and benefits.
  • Being willing to change first. One cannot inspire or ask others to change, without realizing the need for and making genuine, transformative change first within themselves.
  • Having a clear, consistent, and engaging vision for the future. Being able to communicate this clearly with others helps to promote the working together toward a common goal.
  • Leveraging the strengths, passions, knowledge, and experience of those involved in the change.  Having everyone being able to contribute toward the success of any project or change initiative will encourage ownership of and full participation in the process.
  • Being patient with others, yet firm and persistent. Change inevitably takes time and along the way, people may lose focus, understanding, and patience. Take the time to work with those who stumble along the way. Seek however to maintain progress and sight of the finish.
  • Developing strong and sustainable relationships built on trust, respect, and integrity. This forms the foundation of all ethical leadership and promotes creativity, well-being, energy, and growth amongst your people.
  • Asking the tough or difficult questions. Questioning the world around us and the work we do assuredly unlocks new doors and potential. It also allows us the opportunity to rethink and re-evaluate our thoughts, positions, actions, and previous conclusions, taking into account the new requirements and outcomes.
  • Finally, being knowledgeable about key issues. It is much easier for people to trust someone who understands what is going on, not only within the organization but around the world as well. This means having a wide enough range of information and knowledge at your disposal, being articulate in your communication, and an active listener. 

Can project managers make great change agents? Indeed, by being fully aware of their essential roles as agents of change, exhibiting the qualities and characteristics that will enhance and better facilitate the change process, and seeking to cultivate an environment that embraces both learning and change. With this understanding, project managers can create superior value and better outcomes across for the organization initiating the change, and within the projects formulated to support and achieve it.