Project Management Institute

Take your leadership skills to enterprise level

influencing your executives


Project management, project leadership, and program management present excellent opportunities to take your leadership skills to a higher level, at enterprise level: influencing your executives, the organization's decision makers, keeping them excited, interested, and committed to your project, staying on the right track, and utilizing projects and programs to implement the organization's strategy. Influencing executives is more than a selling job. It's a real test of your leadership skills.


With project management professionals using best practices in project and program management in their organizations, we have seen project success rates improve in the last few years. Project managers master implementing project management methodologies, leveraging advancement in technology in project management, and team collaboration tools and techniques.

However, even with improved project success rates and more technologically advanced tools and techniques to help improve team productivity, organizations today still face many complex challenges in setting and achieving their strategic goals. One major challenge is the lack or weakness of “leadership” in the organization. To be successful in implementing strategic goals through projects and programs, organizations need effective leaders. Organizations need to have successful project managers and program managers who are also effective organizational leaders.

Project managers and program managers must be persistent in ensuring active involvement and sustained commitment of senior and executive management. This paper will explore ways to sell your project and to sell project management to senior and executive management. This is a starting point for project managers and program managers in practicing leadership skills at an enterprise level, influencing C-level executives.

Senior program managers and PMO managers also have opportunities to influence executive management in making portfolio strategy decisions, keeping the organizational leaders on the right track, utilizing best practices in portfolio management in achieving the organization's strategic goals. However, influencing executive management through portfolio management and strategic planning and through implementation of portfolio management methodologies is beyond the scope of this paper. This topic is reserved for a follow-on paper.

Influencing Your Executives

Reasons for Project Success

The Standish Group (Preuss, 2006) is a globally respected source of independent primary research and analysis of IT project performance. The Standish Group publishes the CHAOS Chronicles based on over 12 years of research, focus groups, in-depth surveys and executive interviews, on project performance of over 50,000 completed IT projects. CHAOS research documents the scope of application software development project failures, the major factors for failure, and ways to reduce failure.

Survey results from Standish Group released in April 2009 (Gale, 2009, pp.18–19) show 32% of IT projects are successful, 24% are failed projects, and 44% are challenged projects. Successful projects are defined in the Standish Group surveys as those completed on time, on budget, and with all functions and features delivered as promised (satisfying the triple constraints). Failed projects are defined (in the survey) as projects that are terminated before released (projects that are not released). Challenged projects are those that were released but failed to satisfy at least one of the three triple constraints.

Jim Johnson, founder and chairman of the Standish Group, presented the results of their research studies in his book, My Life is Failure (Johnson, 2006), summarizing ten project success factors, as shown in Figure 1.

Top ten reasons for success. Note. From My Life is Failure, by J. Johnson, 2006, West Yarmouth, MA: Standish Group International, Inc. Copyright 2006 by Standish Group International, Inc. Reprinted with permission

Figure 1: Top ten reasons for success.
Note. From My Life is Failure, by J. Johnson, 2006, West Yarmouth, MA: Standish Group International, Inc.
Copyright 2006 by Standish Group International, Inc. Reprinted with permission.

Johnson (2006, p. 5) explained that, traditionally, executive management support has been in the number two spot in Standish Group's 10 CHAOS Success Factors. However, some organizations rank it as the top success factor. Not only does executive management support influence the process and progress of a project, but also the lack of executive input and support can place a project at a severe disadvantage.

Aside from what the survey results say, experienced project managers and program managers know how important executive management support is in delivering successful projects. Executive management support and sustained executive management commitment are critical project success factors.

The Project Manager as an Organizational Leader

Project managers have a responsibility to extend leadership skills beyond project boundaries. An opportunity for successful project managers to seize is that of influencing executives through selling projects and programs as well as project and program management to executive management.

Other leadership opportunities are open for senior management and PMO directors, but the opportunities to influence executives in this way are open to all project managers and programs managers (and there is no reason for project and program managers not to seize these opportunities). The following sections present tools, techniques, and best practices for selling your projects and selling project management to executives.

Selling Your Projects to Executives

When to Sell Your Projects

Selling your project is not a one-time activity. It starts at the beginning of the project life cycle and continues throughout the project life cycle. Selling your project does not have to be conducted as activities separate from or outside project activities, as “selling” techniques can be incorporated in project tasks and part of the project management plan. Therefore, selling your project should occur in initiating, planning, executing, monitoring and controlling, and closing processes.

Tools and Techniques for Selling Your Projects

Project managers can leverage traditional project management tools in selling the project to executives, including:

  1. Business Case / Cost-Benefit Analysis
  2. Project Charter
  3. Requirements Document
  4. Project Kick-Off Meeting Agenda
  5. Project Risk Management Plan
  6. Project Scope Management Plan
  7. Project Communication Plan
  8. Sponsor Roles and Responsibilities Brochure

Tools in Project Initiation

A compelling business case (or project request) is a must for any project. Ensure that your project is aligned with the organizational strategy. Use realistic forecasts based on return-on-investment (ROI). Include a cost/benefit analysis that specifies both long-term and short-term benefits with quantitative (measurable) metrics. Intangible benefits must also be articulated.

Use the project charter as a very effective (communications) tool. The project charter must clearly articulate the executive's vision. It must be reviewed and approved by executive sponsors. It can be an instrument used to communicate to the executives that the executive sponsor's vision is defined in the project vision, that the project objectives are aligned with the organizational strategy, and that the project team clearly understands the project vision and project objectives. The Project Charter must be communicated to the entire organization.

Tools and Techniques Throughout the Project Lifecycle

The project kick-off meeting is an important event when key stakeholders, including senior and executive management, are in attendance. Take advantage of this opportunity of having the key stakeholders together at a time when they are still excited and interested about the project. Add agenda items in the project kick-off meeting to include project management activities that key stakeholders, including senior and executive management, can participate in: e.g., gain a clear understanding of the project vision, project requirements, project risks, key stakeholder roles, and responsibilities, and lessons learned from previous projects that are applicable to the (new) project.

Throughout the project life cycle, encourage executive sponsor participation. Get the executives involved in project activities. They may require coaching and mentoring in understanding their project roles and responsibilities. Be prepared to deliver coaching, as required. For example, develop an executive sponsor brochure to document and clarify senior and executive management's roles and responsibilities.

Demonstrate project performance early. Demonstrate project performance impact on organizational performance, always staying aligned with organizational strategy. Track return-on-investment results and ensure that executive management is always informed of project status and performance. Keep the executives informed of the project performance on a regular basis. The project communication plan must include a specific section dealing with executive management communication.

Executives are special stakeholders. We should treat them in special ways.

  1. Understand and document the executive management's definition of project success and delivery priorities.
  2. Understand requirements and expectations of senior and executive management.
  3. Get the senior and executive management involved in requirements management.
  4. Get executive project sponsors to participate in risk analysis and risk mitigation.
  5. Develop a project communication plan that focuses on specific communications requirements of senior and executive management.
  6. Celebrate project successes with the project team and senior/executive management.
  7. Communicate executive management's support to the project team and to the entire organization.

Selling Project Management to Executives

The Value of Project Management

The value of project management from a project management practitioner's perspective is very different from the value of project management from an executive's perspective. From a project manager's perspective, according to a survey of project managers conducted by PMI (Thomas & Delisle, 2002), project management is valuable in and of itself. Its value is based on:

  1. Improvements in project operations
  2. Useful tools and techniques that lead to a more productive, efficient workforce
  3. A disciplined, methodical approach to planning, monitoring, and control project activities
  4. A repetitive approach to achieving success
  5. Helping the organization be more efficient, productive, and profitable
  6. Reducing cost, cycle time, risk of failure

These are the tactical, operational benefits of utilizing project management, not the strategic benefits that executives are concerned about. Executives don't appreciate these tactical and operational benefits. Executives have the strategic outlook, focused not on products and services but on solutions. Executives value customer service, collaboration, organizational effectiveness, organizational learning, and project management as a core competency to improve the organization's ability to implement strategy.

The value of project management to executives is based on:

  1. Utilizing projects and programs to implement strategy
  2. Implementing projects to achieve operational goals
  3. Projects enhancing organizational performance and leading to defined strategic goals (e.g., new market, competitive edge)
  4. Project performance information necessary to make business decisions
  5. The value of portfolio management

Quantifying the Value of Project Management

  1. Executives quantify the value of portfolio management, in terms of:
  2. Financial measures—using economic value-added, return on capital employed or cost savings, earnings per share, sales growth
  3. Customer measures—using customer satisfaction/retention/acquisition/use or market share
  4. Project/process measures—using cost/schedule performance, resource utilization or project completions/risks
  5. Learning and growth measures—using employee satisfaction, turnover, motivation, productivity

Research studies conducted by PMI (Thomas & Delisle, 2002) summarized the most effective ways to sell project management to executives:

1. Value statement

  • Focus on outcomes related to efficiency and effectiveness values.
  • Show how results can be measured.

2. Triple constraints

  • Relate project performance to business results

3. Relationship

  • The seller's credibility is very important. The seller must be an effective, trustworthy seller.
  • Project management must fit with the organization—e.g., at a cultural or systemic level.

4. Executive language

  • Use simple and clear language related to organizational success.

5. Corporate fit

  • Demonstrate high payoffs, few negative consequences.
  • Utilize project management to achieve strategic goals.

6. Organization tag team

  • Use middle management, project managers, project leaders, and PMO staff to spread the message. Everybody sells.
  • Use senior management to reach executive management, if necessary.

To summarize, effective ways to sell project management to senior and executive management are:

1. Emphasize business results

  • Understand your organization's key business priorities.
  • Discuss project management in the context of measurable quantitative outcomes and effectiveness outcomes.
  • Use a balanced scorecard, if necessary.

2. Explain project management value in terms of cost, time and scope.

–    Tie project management tools to the business.

–    There is no need to overemphasize project language. Use executive language (simple, clear words/phrases).

3.    Understand how project management fits the organization in terms of operational and strategic goals and explain how project management contributes toward achieving long-term operational and strategic goals.


Project management, project leadership, and program management present excellent opportunities for all project managers and program managers—opportunities to take their leadership skills to a higher level, at enterprise level: influencing executives, the organization's decision-makers. Project managers and program managers must capitalize on these opportunities, using tools, techniques, and best practices in selling your project and in selling project management to senior and executive management.

Senior program managers and PMO directors also have opportunities in influencing executive management through strategic planning and implementation of portfolio management methodologies. These opportunities are not open to all project managers in the organization, as they require knowledge and visibility of the entire organizational portfolio. This topic is reserved for a follow-on paper.


Gale, S.F. (2009, November). Rescue plan. PMNetwork 23(11), 18–19.

Johnson, J. (2006). My life is failure. West Yarmouth, MA: Standish Group International Inc.

Preuss, D. (2006, April). Interview: Jim Johnson of the Standish Group. Retrieved October 7, 2009, from

Thomas, J., Delisle, C. (2002). Selling project management to senior management. Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI or any listed author.

© 2010, Victoria S. Kumar, PMP
Originally published as a part of 2010 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Melbourne, Australia



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