Future 50
A New Generation of Leaders Arrives

For giving all athletes a shot at glory

Most people watching the 2000 Summer Olympics were entranced by the skill and grace of the world’s top athletes. Laura Jones was fixated on a less obvious feat: “I was amazed at all of the planning that took place to coordinate each sporting event,” she says.

Fast-forward two decades, and Jones is no longer a high school track-and-field star, watching sports on TV. She is now coordinating her own platform of events at Special Olympics International (SOI). The world’s largest sports organization for children and adults with intellectual and physical disabilities, it provides year-round training and activities to 5 million participants in more than 170 countries. 

When Jones joined SOI from the healthcare industry a year ago, she realized introducing a new project management structure could dramatically improve events and initiatives—but it had to be done in a way that’s truly inclusive.

“We’re not working with project managers all the time. We’re working with individuals who have stepped in and are taking the lead on a project. Sometimes we get so technical that it can be very overwhelming. Especially working with people with intellectual disabilities, I want to make sure that they can understand the concepts and run an event successfully,” she says. “We want to be the change agents for inclusion. At the end of the day, it’s ultimately about serving our athletes.” 

Jones’ first priority is creating a one-stop shop for all project information, from initiation to close. “This clear and transparent information allows leaders, stakeholders and project leads visibility into regional and departmental projects and their statuses,” she says.
For the next phase, Jones says, SOI will focus on developing reporting it can use to drive better performance. Phase three will be about sustainability and maintenance: “How do we keep project management alive?” 

The name of the game is extreme adaptability, Jones says. “We really have to make sure—especially in the environment we’re in now, with the global pandemic—that we’re able to adapt to new processes. We need to be able to look at our events and make changes depending on what’s currently taking place.”

Q&A: Laura Jones on healthy communication and online collaboration

What’s the most influential project you've worked on?

In college, I had an internship at a local hospital with the epidemiology and infection control department. They gave me a project that involved counting how many times healthcare professionals would enter and exit a patient room without washing their hands. When I first started the project, I didn’t realize the magnitude that it would have on the healthcare community and research efforts. However, as I started getting more into the execution phase and got to follow the project to its close, it was amazing to see the data that came out of it, as well as the other projects that grew off of it— educational training programs, marketing awareness campaigns and more. It jump-started my career into project management. 

What’s the one must-have skill to succeed in The Project Economy?

Healthy communication. And looking at where we are today with COVID-19, a lot of us have had to adapt and embrace the virtual opportunities and technologies.

What’s one way managing projects will have changed by 2030?

We’ll start to see a bigger surge in the use of online project management tools and their collaboration with other software. It’s something we’re currently starting to see a glimpse in how it can aid us in collecting information from our project team, but we’ll start seeing more automated processes to assist project managers with some of the more detailed tasks.

How are young people changing the world of projects?

We need young people’s creativity and drive to adopt new technologies and tools. A lot of the young project managers that I work with are bringing new ideas for better data analysis and allowing for better transparency. Within Special Olympics, young people are driving us forward by demanding inclusion and embodying the mission of Special Olympics. We want people with intellectual disabilities to lead projects, and we’re creating opportunities for Special Olympics athletes to do so.

What famous or historic person would you want on your project team?

Eunice Kennedy Shriver, founder of the Special Olympics. Because of her resilience and ability to start a purposeful project in her backyard, then make it into a global organization, I would want her on my team. Her mission and vision to drive change when no one else would is a remarkable trait.