This research examines the available literature to identify any linkages between military experience as a predictor of success when applied to project management roles within industry. Anecdotal evidence regarding the success of military veterans in project management roles abounds. Studies also point to various factors, such as the ability within the military and the Department of Defense to gain practical leadership and management experience along with specific technical training. Formal training, combined with on-the-job experience within military organizations, involve management activities and cultural norms that appear to be consistent with successful project management practice in industry. An examination of the leadership competency frameworks of the Army, the Air Force, the Navy and Marines Corps, the Coast Guard, and the Department of Defense and their respective alignment with the Project Management Institute’s Project Manager Competency Development Framework provides additional supporting evidence as predictors for veteran military personnel and project management success.
Keywords: military veterans; competency framework; competency alignment
Are the US Armed Forces a source of project management talent?
The relationship between organizational structure and management practices between industry and the military have long been recognized (Talbot, 2003). Such linkages may suggest that the military member’s transition from the military organization to the civilian organizations may therefore be a natural one from the perspective of organizational structure similarity (Highgate, 2001; Talbot, 2003). Project management organizations may be an even stronger fit with military veterans due to the level of responsibility allocated to military members early in their careers along with the culture of duty and self-sacrifice (Kolditz, 2009). Such responsibility and career experience align with the personal competencies of communicating, leading, managing, and effectiveness described within the Project Manager Competency Development Framework (PMCDF) promoted by the Project Management Institute (PMI) (Project Management Institute, 2007). As these competencies are identified as personal competencies within the PMI-PMCDF , it is observed that certain behaviors may be considered essential for the successful management of projects. To quote the PMI-PMCDF (2007) directly:
Personal competencies are those behaviors, attitudes, and core personality characteristics that contribute to a person’s ability to manage projects. (p. 23)
What are competencies and why are they important?
Competency models are said to identify and describe the skills, capabilities, and know-how that is likely to lead to success on the job (Axley, 2008; Campion, Ruggeberg, Carr, Phillips, & Oddman, 2011). Compentencies analysis and specification differ from traditional job analysis in that competencies highlight those elements that should be in place in order to execute the strategy of the firm—rather than those that are in place due to the nature of the job itself (Zingheim, Ledford, & Schuster, 1996). Competency modeling is therefore cited to enable strategic alignment by creating a roadmap for the skillsets required for carrying out the organization’s mission (Measures & Bagshaw, 2009). Such a roadmap is in effect a set of selection tools for each role in the organization. In the context of military and project management competency models, if different organizational contexts offer competency models that are in alignment, this suggests that moving from one context to another—for example from the mission mindedness of a military environment to project management in the civilian environment—should be straightforward.
Do competency models predict success? Research suggests that they do, to a degree(Bucur, 2013, Sutton, & Watson, 2013). On the other hand, the presence of a competency model also provides the means for assessing development needs in the organization so that success can be assured (Abdul Razal, Kamaruddin, & Azid, 2012). Furthermore, competency models provide a structure for identifying all categories of skills required for successful job performance thereby enhancing performance appraisal and feedback (Daud, Ismail, & Zohara, 2010). This approach’s success has led to competency modeling as being the foundation of many organizational talent management systems in place today (Stone, Webster, & Schoonover, 2013). The scope of such systems encompasses desired skills and competencies within the domain management and leadership (Liu, Chen, Jiang, & Klein, 2010). With the aid of the PMI Project Management Competency Development Framework (and its consistency with competency frameworks in the branches of military service), competency modeling in organizations may be expanded to the domain of project management (Project Management Institute, 2007).
What is unique about Military training and experience?
What is unique about military experience that could be a direct contributor to success within the field of project management? The nature of the military mission puts a high degree of emphasis on competencies such as strong interaction with colleagues and a focus on creating successful outcomes (Young & Dulewicz, 2005). Further, the fact that higher level direction is given from above in military organizations (centralized control and decentralized execution), whereas project implementation is carried out at lower levels of the organization is a context not unfamiliar to many project managers (Shulstad, 2009). Also, the ability to coordinate action with others under extreme circumstances is said to be key learning in combat veterans, and such learning would likely contribute to the success of a project manager in the midst of a very difficult project (Godez-Sanchez, 2010). Research has also shown that military service tends to develop positive traits such as dominance, extroversion, and self-confidence, which is said to be linked to leadership characteristics required in project management (Maleki, 2012). In a study of department of defense program manager competencies, the results indicated that the competencies in need of improvement tended to involve specific technical skills rather than leadership and management capability (Wood, 2010). It can be concluded from an inspection of the literature that competencies and behaviors developed within the context of military service are in alignment with competencies desirable within the field of project management (Godez-Sanchez, 2010; Maleki, 2012; Project Management Institute, 2007; Young & Dulewicz, 2005).
The role and importance of execution in project management
Koskela and Howell (2002) observed that project management lacks a comprehensive underlying theory. The theoretical underpinnings of project management could be said to rest primarily upon theories of planning and controlling, with limited attention given to the execution function within the PMI framework (Koskela & Howell, 2002). That being said, PMI-PMCDFdoes give importance to the personal competencies of leading, managing, and effectiveness, thereby suggesting the importance of personal competencies when it comes to translating a project plan into successful execution (Project Management Institute, 2007). It is exactly these skills that military service tends to breed in individuals who have served (Kolditz, 2009; Maleki, 2012). As evidence of successful demonstration of execution-oriented skills developed in the course of military service, former military personnel are over-represented in the population of corporate CEOs (Duffy, 2006). Research suggests that ex-military CEOs exhibit strong performance, a high degree of teamwork and motivational skills, an ability to remain calm under pressure, and the ability to motivate others (Duffy, 2006). These personal competencies that are notable in military veteran CEOs are consistent with the personal competencies considered desirable in project managers (Project Management Institute, 2007). Such competencies have been supported by other authors and practitioners as essential to success. In Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done, authored by a former senior manager at General Electric and former CEO of Allied Signal, execution competencies were grouped together into building blocks of execution that included people, strategy, operations—each with a set of processes including simple factors such as knowing one’s people, goal-setting, and follow-through (Bossidy & Charan, 2002). The clear focus on execution in military training, the highlighted importance of execution in industry, and the need for managers who have a personal ability to execute and thereby fill in the missing pieces of the PMI framework, are therefore considered an important focus of study. The resulting study points to a previously untapped pool of personnel that are potentially uniquely suited to project management. By demonstrating the importance of personal execution skills, it is also anticipated that a greater emphasis on execution in the PMI framework could be developed, thereby leading to a development of a more firm foundational theory underlying the project management body of knowledge.
The competencies frameworks examined here include the Project Management Institute’s Project Management Competencies Development Framework, the US Army’s leadership requirements model, the Us Air Force’s leadership competencies, the Navy’s leadership competency model, the US Coast Guard’s leadership development framework, and the US Department of Defense’s civilian leader development framework. This high-level framework comparison evaluated competency terms, definitions, and descriptions. Table 1 presents an overview of the frameworks, including the organization, reference, and brief description.
|Organization||PMI||Army||Air Force||Navy*||Coast Guard||DoD|
|Source||Project Manager Competencies Development Framework||Army doctrine publication 622||Air Force doctrine document 1-1||Center for professional development||Commandant instruction |
|Department of Defense instruction 1430.16|
|Description||4 categories, |
2 competencies, 11 categories, 55 skills, knowledge, behavior
|3 attributes, 3 leadership competencies, 23 behaviors or skills||2 categories, 3 core values, 3 personal leadership characteristics, 16 behaviors||5 competencies, 29 skills, behaviors and attitudes||4 categories, 28 competencies||5 core, 1 technical, 2 joint competencies, 38 skills, behaviors, attitudes|
*Note: for the purpose of this paper, the Marine Corps is a component of the Navy
The purpose of this examination was to compare the PMI competencies framework to the military services’ frameworks to identify overlaps and gaps seeking to answer the question: Is project management a natural career destination for military veterans? The framework overlaps may provide evidence to predict a military veteran’s success as a project manager. The gaps may pin-point opportunities for training or experience in preparation for a military veteran’s future career in project management.
The PMI project manager competency development framework
According to the Project Manager Competencies Development Framework (PMCDF) (Project Management Institute, 2007), “Competent project managers consistently apply their project management knowledge and personal behaviors to increase the likelihood of delivering projects that meet stakeholders’ requirements. Project managers bring together their knowledge, skills, personal characteristics, and attitudes when focusing on delivering a project” (p. 2). As illustrated in Figure 1, the PMCDF goes on to categorize the competencies in three dimensions: knowledge competence, performance competence, and personal competence.
The project manager knowledge competence is described as “What the project manager knows about the application of processes, tools, and techniques for project activities” (2007, p. 2). Such knowledge level competencies can be demonstrated through passing a credentialing exam, like the PMI Project Management Professional Certification, or the other international project management certifications. Examples of international certification include: PRINCE2 sponsored by the Association for Project Management (http://www.apm.org.uk/APMP2), or the International Project Management Association’s Four Level Certification (http://ipma.ch/certification/competence/4-l-c-features/).
The project manager performance competence is demonstrated by applying the knowledge competencies through actual project work. These performance competencies are tied to the five project management process groups, described through 30 knowledge and skill sets, and can be measured and reflected upon for further development (see Appendix 1) (Project Management Institute, 2007).
Just as the PMI-PMCDF describes the performance competencies through detailed description, the project manager personal competence is also described in great detail, illustrating 25 skill sets through six behavioral competencies (see appendix 2). These are “How the project manager behaves when performing activities within the project environment, their attitudes, and core personality characteristics. These can be demonstrated by assessing the project manager’s behavior” (PMI, 2007, p. 3).
Leadership competency frameworks from the service branches
The United States service branches are made up of the Army, Air Force, Navy, which for this paper includes the Marine Corps as a subcomponent, Coast Guard, and the civilian component governed under the Department of Defense. These branches have mature personnel development processes with roots in doctrine and are delineated through a series of detailed policies.
The United States Army
According to Army Doctrine Publication (ADP 6-22, 2012) and illustrated in Figure 2, the Army outlines its professionalism in the Army leadership requirements model. In this competency model, there are two categories: leadership attributes, which describe what the soldier should know, and the leadership competencies, which is what soldiers should do. Both of these are further defined with characteristics and traits providing a solid foundation for successful soldiers.
The United States Air Force
Air Force Doctrine Document 1-1 governs strategic leadership and force development and defines the Air Force’s approach to competency development (AFDD-1-1, 2004). It begins by stating: “This document discusses leadership and force development principles and tenets that are experience-based and rooted in all levels of the Air Force. It emphasizes the leader’s personal engagement; these are the leaders who make things better” (AFDD 11, p. iii). This foundational doctrine is operationalized in two categories: Air Force core values and leadership competencies.
The Air Force’s core values are the standard for the profession and are described in three concise statements: Integrity first. Service before self. Excellence in all we do. “The core values are a statement of those institutional values and principles of conduct that provide the moral framework within which military activities take place. The professional Air Force ethic consists of three fundamental and enduring values of integrity, service, and excellence” (AFPD 1-1, 2004, p. 4).
This description begins by emphasizing, on the personal level, leadership characteristics: “This competency focuses on face-to-face, interpersonal relations that directly influence human behavior and values…It is required to build cohesive units and to empower immediate subordinates” (AFDD-1-1, 2004, p. 9).
The United States Navy
According to the Navy’s Center for Personal and Professional Development, the Navy’s leadership competency model is defined through five competencies: Accomplishing the mission, leading People, leading change, working with people, and resource stewardship. To further clarify the model, the Navy Personnel Center states, “A competency is defined as a behavior or set of behaviors that describes excellent performance in a particular work context (Job Role, Position, or Function)” (Navy Leadership Competency Model).
United States Coast Guard
According to Commandant Instruction M5351.3, the intent of the Coast Guard leadership development framework is to establish a consistent development approach for all segments of the organization. It is comprised of 28 competencies divided into four categories: Leading self, Leading others, Leading performance and change, and Leading the Coast Guard. The Commandant Instruction includes methods for gaining and demonstrating competence.
United States Department of Defense
The governing directive for the civilian component is the Department of Defense Instruction (DoDI) 1430.16. This instruction outlines the DoD Civilian Leader Development Framework as “five core leadership competencies and one technical core competency that DoD civilian leaders need to accomplish the 21st century national security mission. It also lists the 25 components of these core competencies, plus six fundamental competencies that form the foundation” (DoDI 1430.16, 2009, p. 10).
Common threads between the branches of service frameworks
The fundamental purpose of each military service branch is to support missions within their respective military field. The term ‘mission’ in the military is not used in the conventional business vernacular. In the military, the term ‘mission’ is defined as:
1.The task, together with the purpose, that clearly indicates the action to be taken and the reason therefore.
2.In common usage, especially when applied to lower military units, a duty assigned to an individual or unit; a task.
3.The dispatching of one or more aircraft to accomplish one particular task.
(Military Terms and Definitions, 2013)
An examination of this definition links the term mission with task. However, the task of a mission in this definition is likely to be complex given that it also involves actions, and potentially the deployment of aircraft, resources, and weapons systems. Further, the term ‘task’ implies a temporary endeavor, as tasks are not typically ongoing activities. The definition of mission is therefore consistent with the definition of project, given by the Project Management Institute as follows:
Project-- A project is temporary in that it has a defined beginning and end in time, and therefore defined scope and resources.
…a project is unique in that it is not a routine operation, but a specific set of operations designed to accomplish a singular goal. So a project team often includes people who don’t usually work together – sometimes from different organizations and across multiple geographies. (Project Management Institute, 2013)
The alignment between the leadership competency frameworks among the branches of the military and with the PMI-PMCDF is therefore not unexpected since the nature of the activity of project managers managing projects and military leaders managing missions are observed to be similar. The strength of the proposed alignment between the PMI-PMCDF with the branches of the military is of interest to confirm this observation. Also, the relative importance of each service branch’s leadership competencies also supports the linkage with project management should the emphasis in the military branches be found to be consistent with project management principles. A possible way to determine this is to examine each of the leadership competency frameworks for common threads running through each. Such a thread would be indicated by the same (or similar, related) competency appearing in multiple branches of the military. This exercise was conducted, and it was observed that leadership competencies or similar related competencies did appear multiple times. Only a single competency appeared in all five branches of service, and this competency is associated with communications (Table 2). Given the strong emphasis of communications in project management, this finding supports the overall linkage between projects and military missions.
|Navy & Marines||Air Force||Army||Coast Guard||DoD||PMCDF|
|Keep your personnel informed||Foster effective communications||Communicates||Effective |
Seven competencies were observed to be represented in at least four branches of service. These seven competencies are also observed to be characteristics of successful project managers as they generally represent the themes of self-improvement, technical proficiency, results orientation, mentoring, influencing, and being dependable. Although most competencies given in the branch of service leadership frameworks are behavior-oriented and reveal a clear linkage to PMI-PMCDF personal competencies, the one clear-cut PMI-PMCDF performance competency of execution appears in this group (Table 3).
|Navy & Marines||Air Force||Army||Coast Guard||DoD||PMCDF|
|Know yourself & seek improvement||Assess Self||Prepares Self||Self-awareness & Learning||Cognitive ability|
|Train your marines and sailors as a team||Leading people & teams||Teambuilding||Teambuilding||Leading|
|Be technically & tactically proficient||Expertise||Technical Proficiency||Technical |
|Ensure That The Task Is Understood, Supervised, and Accomplished||Drive execution||Gets results||Results Driven||Executing|
|Attract, retain & develop talent||Develops others||Mentoring||Developing others||Managing|
|Extends influence beyond chain of command||Influence through win-win solutions||Influencing others||Influencing/ |
|Dependability||Drive performance through shared vision, values, and accountability||Accountability and Responsibility||Accountability||Professionalism|
There are 16 competencies that appear in at least three branches of service. The competencies in this group speak to a strategic viewpoint (vision, innovation, creativity), operational effectiveness (decision-making, judgment, process improvement), and strong personal characteristics (integrity, resilience, and honor). These competencies also appear to be strongly consistent with the PMI-PMCDF, and most in the field of project management would likely agree that such competencies are clearly highly desirable in project managers (Table 4).
|Navy & Marines||Air Force||Army||Coast Guard||DoD||PMCDF|
|Decisiveness||Decision-making and problem solving||Decisiveness||Effectiveness|
|Judgment||Exercise Sound Judgment||Sound Judgment||Cognitive Ability|
|Integrity||Integrity First||Integrity/ |
|Set the example||Leads by example||Personal conduct||Leading|
|Resource excellence||Human Resource Management||Human capital management||Managing|
|Command organization and mission success through enterprise integration and resource stewardship||Stewards the profession||Stewardship||Effectiveness|
|Leading the institution||Leadi ng the Coast Guard||Leading People||Leading|
|Shape Air Force strategy & direction||Vision development & implementation||Vision||Leading|
|Embrace change and transformation||Leading performance and change||Leading change||Leading|
|Operational Excellence||Management & process improvement||Mission orientation||Managing|
|Honor||Army values||Aligning values||Professionalism|
|Adapt and perform under pressure||Confidence||Fundamental competencies||Effectiveness|
|Innovation||Creativity and innovation||Creativity and innovation||Leading|
|Partner to maximize results||Partnering||Partnering||Leading|
The final group of observed competencies appears in at least two branches of service (Table 5). These competencies are observed to be associated with generic characteristics of leadership, management, and professionalism. Again, these competencies would be welcome in a project management setting as the project manager must interact with stakeholders at multiple levels as well as sponsors in order to achieve project goals.
|Navy & Marines||Air Force||Army||Coast Guard||DoD||PMCDF|
|Unselfishness||Service before self||Professionalism|
|Enthusiasm||Creates positive environment/ esprit de corps||Professionalism|
|Bearing||Military and professional bearing||Professionalism|
|Know your people and look out for their welfare||Taking care of people||Managing|
|Financial management||Financial management||Managing|
|Strategic thinking||Strategic thinking||Leading|
|External awareness||External awareness||Leading|
|Inspire trust||Interpersonal skills||Professionalism|
|Political savvy||Political savvy||Leading|
|Customer focus||Customer service||Professionalism|
|Respect for others||Empathy||Professionalism|
Overall PMI-PMCDF & branches of service alignment and next steps
It would appear from an examination of military competency frameworks that military veterans are nurtured in an environment that fosters competencies consistent with those outlined by the PMI-PMCDF and are often found in successful project managers. What then can be done to facilitate the transition from a career in the military to one in project management? The PMI-PMCDF provides guidance with its categorization of competencies into the major areas of knowledge, performance, and personal competencies. We have observed that there is strong alignment with personal competencies, and some indirect alignment with the PMI-PMCDF performance competencies. Since the nature of missions aligns well with projects in industry, it is proposed that military personnel have a natural familiarity with project management principles, but may lack some specific details and nomenclature used by PMI. It is suggested that the military transition may be facilitated with a focus on training to reduce such gaps by providing guidance on the PMI process group and focused training on PMI certification. Using the radar chart example in the PMI-PMCDF, we can easily observe the strength of the personal competency alignment as well as the gaps in knowledge and performance competencies (Figure 15).
Considerations for further research
This paper concludes that military veterans, by virtue of their military training and experience, have personal competencies suitable for project management careers. Further investigation is required to evaluate the military specialties and align them to the project management certifications that are available (PMI-Project Management Professional, PMI-Risk Management Professional, etc., and or international certifications). This type of investigation could result in a framework to guide transitioning military members as they try to find their second career. This research has focused primarily on the personal competencies alignment because they are explicitly documented in the military literature; therefore, it makes the presumption that knowledge and performance competencies borne of military experience is relatively limited. It may however be implicitly present in the records of military veterans, and this possibility begs the need for additional research. Further research on the assessment and mapping of military experience training documented in military transcripts might well lead to the development of a deeper and more comprehensive alignment between military experience and project management—thereby making the case that project management may the most obvious career destination for the military veteran.