As a fan of assuring that project managers have the proper skills and competencies to do their work, I was very happy to see a paper which reviews the literature on sustainability competencies.
Of course, for the past 8 years, EarthPM have been big proponents of combining these ideas. We assert that the skills and capabilities of project managers, combined with the elements of a long-term view, and consideration of social aspects of project outcomes, make for a much more capable project manager, a more satisfied project team, and an outcome which satisfies a broader set of stakeholders for a longer time.
So we were very pleased to recently review a summary of research provided by Coro Strandberg, which identifies five key competencies for sustainability leadership. You may not even believe that project managers need these competencies. It’s the intent of this blog post to convince you otherwise.
Coro actually identifies three skills –System Thinking, External Collaboration, and Social Innovation – and two knowledge areas – Sustainability Literacy and Active Values.
Taken together, here are the five competencies:
1. Systems thinking
2. External collaboration
3. Social innovation
4. Sustainability literacy
5. Active values
The first two, I believe, don’t need much elaboration for us as project managers. I hope most of us would agree that Systems Thinking and External Collaboration are representative of what we need to be good at as PMs.
It’s the next few I’d like to touch on in a little detail.
Social innovation is the “ability to generate and enable business model, organization, and system level innovation to advance both business and social value. It shifts the collective focus from reactive problem solving to co-creating the future with stakeholders”. Doesn’t that sound like “quality”? Doesn’t that evoke the idea of really well-done requirements management so that the outcome of the project isn’t just ‘cool’ but works for the people who care?
Yes, there is an element here, we admit, that we may not be used to as project managers – that idea of thinking of social value along with business value. However we’d assert that doing this would be truly best for an enterprise if they just look up to the enterprise’s mission/vision statements which likely state that the enterprise intends to serve not only as a means to generate profits but also to satisfy community and social needs as well.
Sustainability Literacy – here we want to simply assert that as employees who want to stay employees, it’s too your advantage to become literate about sustainability. Agree or not with the premise(s) involved in the drive for sustainability, the hard fact is that many organizations – and their customers (your customers, perhaps) are mobilizing to think along the lines of Corporate Social Responsibility. It’s only logical that those who can speak the language and understand what this is all about gain an advantage in the employment market.
“Active values” is a bit esoteric. It includes the ability to “develop and pursue higher purpose within self, teams and business – to practice ‘mindfulness’, and to foster and enable personal and organizational transformation (change)”. Yet esoteric as it is, it has a very real benefit to you as a project manager because it’s been shown over and over again that project teams that feel they are working for a higher purpose do better. Don’t believe me? Check out the excellent TED video by Dan Pink, which covers Mastery, Autonomy, and Purpose as the key motivators of teams that do anything other than routine mechanical work.
If this doesn’t hook you in, look at the skills/competencies upon which these five sustainability leadership competencies are built. Tell me they don’t look familiar:
System Thinking: Problem-Solving, Analytical Thinking and Strategic Planning
External Collaboration: Internal Collaboration,
Relationship Building and Conflict Resolution
Social Innovation: Change Leadership, Creativity and
Sustainability Literacy: Business Acumen and Financial Leadership
Active Values: Diversity, Integrity and Self-Management
This means that not only are these important, but they should be easily learned by us as project managers. The competencies you see above – I’m sure you recognize them in yourself, or at least you aspire to excel at these competencies. For sustainability leadership, you just need to adapt them and expand on them in more meaningful ways.
By doing so, you can hit a really key “sweet spot” (see figure below) to not only make your projects more successful, but to improve your career and your personal success. And that’s something on which we all can readily agree!