Project Management Institute

What We Can Learn from a New Generation of Project Leaders

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Photo by Mario Purisic on Unsplash

17 August 2020

As organizations continue to face disruptive change and transformation, a younger generation of project talent has risen to meet the challenge, shaping the future of work. With the #PMIFuture50 list, we recognize the visionaries who show us how to thrive in this evolving world.

A new generation of project talent has risen around the world—and they are altering what it means to leverage The Project Economy. Passionate about inclusion, creativity, and collaboration, these purpose-driven individuals view project work as the foundation for positive impact across their fields. 

Our #PMIFuture50 list recognizes visionary young leaders reshaping the future of work and driving innovation. As Gen Z increasingly enters the workforce and more millennials take on leadership positions, it is essential to nourish the power and promise of this young talent at scale. 

Through interviews with this year’s Future 50 honorees and many other project leaders around the globe, we have identified new imperatives for leaders, projects, and organizations to thrive in this evolving world. 

Foster a Learning Culture 

The world around us is changing fast, with new technologies, tools, and opportunities emerging constantly. “With turbulent environments and rapid change upon us, unpredictability and disruptive innovation will only become more frequent,” says Future 50 honoree Gillian Dowds of BAE Systems Maritime in the United Kingdom. “We need to be flexible to react quickly to fast-changing tech and to navigate ambitious customer requirements and agile competitors.”  

Progressive organizations keep up with the pace of change by supporting those willing to try new technologies and expand their skillset to execute bold ideas. Cultivating young talent is an important part of this equation. Younger generations are inherently well-equipped to deal with change. They are constantly learning, innovating, and experimenting with new approaches whilst leveraging access to knowledge that is readily available in today’s world of information. As such, they expect an organizational culture that supports continuous learning, growth, and risk-taking.   

Pick Up the Pace

Younger generations feel a sense of urgency when it comes to tackling big problems, choosing to face them head on rather than sit back and wait for change to happen. As Future 50 honoree Gabriel Costa Caldas of GPjr in Brazil puts it, “The youth are already aware that, in The Project Economy, we need to start executing projects as soon as possible and be able to make adjustments quickly.” For instance, at just 17 years-old, Swedish climate activist and Future 50 honoree Greta Thunberg sparked a movement that inspired the largest climate demonstration in history. She is a shining example of how young people take ownership of urgent issues and drive progress in ways that demand recognition.   

To let the transformative power of young talent unfold, companies must be amenable to unconventional advancement. Many organizations still cling to the belief that professional experience should be favored above all else when hiring and promoting talent. But engaging this new generation of project leaders requires a willingness to put them in the driver’s seat early, based on their capabilities rather than years of experience. 

Collaborate with Others

“A leader must always be ready and willing to get in the trenches with the team,” says Future 50 honoree Jonathan Kadishson of Burns & McDonnell in the United States. “Get the right people on your team and put your team’s needs ahead of your own.” This sentiment is echoed by data about Gen Z in the workplace. When asked the top leadership traits they look for in a manager, 47% of Gen Z responded that “they trust me” and 40% said that “they’re supportive,” according to The Workforce Institute.  

Collaborative leadership is a power skill we often talk about at PMI. It helps organizations work more effectively by engaging deeply with team members to tap into their unique insights and abilities. It can be as simple as asking your employees what fulfills them and encourages them to do their best work, then taking that feedback to create optimal conditions for them to thrive in.  

Champion Inclusion

In order to truly harness the power of teams to drive progress, organizations must champion the inclusion of a wide range of diverse individuals that can help bring advances to life in a meaningful way. “There’s enough benchmarking out there to prove that diversity and inclusion not only positively impact the bottom line, but also increase employee engagement, innovation, and agility,” says Future 50 honoree Sevi Rich of BHP in Australia.  

Diversity in the workplace ensures that a wide range of points of views are represented in the decision-making process, which inspires more creative and innovative solutions. It is no surprise that this also results in a highly engaged talent pool, because employees of all backgrounds feel accepted and valued by their organization.   

Lead with Purpose

The younger generations of project talent are passionate about leveraging the workplace as a force for good, and they want to work at a company with leadership that shares these values. According to a 2019 Deloitte survey, 46% of millennials and 47% of Gen Z hope to make a positive impact on society, and 55% of them believe that business has the power to achieve that impact. 

As corporate social responsibility becomes a top priority for young professionals, leadership must build a workplace culture that embodies these ideals. Organizations increasingly need to use their work as the foundation of positive impact, starting today.   

Anja Blacha head shot

Anja Blacha

VP of Youth, PMI