An effective project manager coaching approach

driving the coach to the future

Guido Granchi, NLP coach and Trainer, Granchi & Partners S.r.l.


The goal of project management coaching is to release an empowered project manager who is conscious of his or her resources so that he or she can truly drive the project along on the right tracks. But the coaching that is necessary for this profession is not “simple”: A balanced mixture between related project management experience and an effective coaching process is needed.

In the first part of the paper, we will introduce the concept of coaching and the difference between mentoring, tutoring, and counselling, and will also cover the need for and benefits of project management coaching. In the second part of the presentation, we will go through a 10-step coaching process. In the third section, we will discuss the Project Manager Competency Development Framework (PMDC) – Second Edition, describing the potential of “Effective Project Management Coaching.” Finally, in the last section, we will evaluate the future of project management coaching.


Project management is a powerful approach to improving an organization's effectiveness. Unfortunately, there is a “gap” between the time that one reads a project management book (or attends a workshop) and the time when one tries to apply that new information to their work. That “gap” is best filled by project management coaching. It is necessary for a new approach to the project manager role: You need to conjugate project management experience with a coaching perspective to correctly develop the project manager in his or her profession. The project governance that “provides a comprehensive, consistent method for controlling the project and ensuring the success itself” (PMI, 2008, p. 20) is not possible without an object-oriented approach.

Project management coaching should adopt what is actually just a form of learning the basics, which under ordinary circumstances occurs during the period of life known as the “critical period” (Lorenz, 1949), when one is biologically predisposed to that type of learning. Use of “imprinting” as defined by Konrad Lorenz then enhances the capacity of project managers through their awareness and understanding of their potential in the management of the project. (Lorenz, 1949).


During the last 10 years, coaching has become an effective process in helping clients reach their goals and improve their performance, not only in the United Kingdom and the United States, but also in Italy. However, based on our experience, in Italy the differences between coaching, counselling, and mentoring are not always perfectly clear.

What is Coaching? A Definition

Coaching is the process of helping people and teams to perform to the best of their abilities. It involves drawing out people's strengths, helping people to bypass personal barriers and limits in order to achieve their personal best, and facilitating their ability to function more effectively as members of a team.

Which are the Differences Between Coaching, Mentoring, and Counselling?

Imagine that you are walking down the street and you see a young man who is trying to ride a bicycle, but is unable to do so: his balance is very weak and it looks as if he's probably going to fall down (Dilts, 2003).

He needs help!

A first man goes near him and begins to listen to him and tries to understand his problem. Then he talks to the young man, giving his some wise pieces of advice and then goes away.

A second man goes near the biker, but his approach is a little different: His attention is focused on the bike, on its mechanical structure; he wants to know if all the pieces are working together in the right way. In the meantime, a cycle racing champion stops near the young man and jumps on his bike: He wants to show him all the right movements for being well-balanced and how to pedal with less effort.

When the champion has ended his demonstration, a woman comes near the young man and asks him: “Where do you want to go?” and “Why is it so important to you to reach that goal?” Beside the bicycle, what else do you need to begin your journey?”

Can you name, in order, who has met with the young man?

A counsellor, a consultant, a mentor, and a coach.

This synoptic table (Exhibit 1) shows in more detail the differences between coaching, counselling, and mentoring:

Synoptic table

Exhibit 1: Synoptic table.

The counselling process is related more to the individual's needs than to the company's needs.

A business mentor provides guidance to a business owner or an entrepreneur regarding that individual's business. The experience of the mentor can help the mentee overcome hurdles in business easily, based on the mentor's own experience facing similar situations.

The mentoring process is focused on the development of the potential resources of the young peer.
Coaching is the art of improving the performance of others. Managers who coach encourage their teams to learn from and be challenged by their work. They create the conditions for continuous development by helping their staff to define and achieve goals. A good coach listens first, asks searching questions, provides constructive feedback, and is ready to generate creative ideas.

Why Coaching is So Important in Project Management

Coaching is so important in project management because the project manager must fill several roles in the completion of a project. First of all, the project manager must fill the role of an integrator: he or she is often the only person who is able to view both the project and the way it fits the overall plan for the organization. The project manager must also explain and integrate the project with members outside the project team who may or may not be within the organization.

Project management connections

Exhibit 2: Project management connections.

Benefit of Project Management Coaching

To be an integrator with all of the project stakeholders, an effective project manager needs to develop several capabilities (Withmore, 2009). In our experience, the main benefits of the project management coaching are:

  • Improvement of current competences
  • Better communication and negotiation skills
  • Greater mental flexibility and problem-solving capability
  • Better relationship with all the project stakeholders

During the first coaching session, the coach explores the project manager's capabilities, identifying the present state and the desired state (the goals of the coaching process).The tool is the following coach matrix:

Coach matrix

Exhibit 3: Coach matrix.

An Effective Coaching Process in 10 Steps

The goal is to create a balance between technical and relationship skills within a process that enriches the individual resources of the coachee and, at the same time, overcomes possible resistances.

This path, in our experience, is composed of 10 different steps:

  1. A first meeting with the company's top management/functional manager to identify the coachee's needs aligned with the company goals (desired state)
  2. A coachee's 360° assessment to define the present state (strengths and weaknesses)
  3. During the first coaching session, the coach and the coachee reflect together on the assessment's results and define the goals of the coaching process
  4. The coach and the coachee write down the coaching plan and identify the key performance indicators
  5. The top management/functional manager approve the coaching plan
  6. The coach and the coachee begin the coaching sessions, according to the coaching plan
  7. The coach does on-the-job training sessions to test the coachee's improvements and changes
  8. The coach gives feedback to the coachee about the on-the-job training
  9. The coach writes the coaching report, which summarizes the coaching process describing the improvements and, if present, the areas that are still critical
  10. The top management/functional manager decide whether to end the coaching process or to continue with some follow-up sessions

The Coaching Process and the Five Units of Performance Competence (PMCD)

An expert and competent project manager applies his or her project management knowledge and personal code of conduct to increase the chance of meeting stakeholders' expectations with successful projects.

As stated by Crawford (1997), competence, when applied to project management, “is the demonstrated ability to perform activity within a project environment that leads to expected outcomes based on defined and accepted standards”(PMI, 2007, p. 2).

Project management competence, according to Project Manager Competency Development Framework (PMDC) – Second Edition is structured in three areas (PMI, 2007, p. 2):

  1. Project manager Knowledge Area: how to apply process, tools, and techniques to projects activities
  2. Project manager performance area: how to apply project management knowledge to meet project requirements
  3. Project management personal area: how the project manager conducts himself or herself when delivering project activities (attitude and personal characteristics)

The project management coaching approach is meant to verify and support the project manager's knowledge and application of competence throughout all of the project management phases (Exhibit 4), integrating performing skills and attitudes.

Project management process groups

Exhibit 4: Project management process groups.

Project Initiating: establishing key stakeholders' needs and expectations (PMI, 2007) – In this phase, the project manager's delivery competence is addressed to the performing organization and project stakeholders in order to permit a correct definition of project objectives.

Project Planning: integrating the planning activities into a project management plan (PMI, 2007) – In this phase, the project manager's abilities are directed to project scope acceptance, schedule and budget acceptance, project team roles, and responsibilities definition, communication activities agreement, change management process definition, and, finally, project plan approval.

Project Executing: implementing corrective and preventive actions (PMI, 2007) – In this phase, the project manager's goal is to realize scope, and to manage stakeholders' expectations and project's resources.

Project Monitoring and Controlling: identifying the impact of change (PMI, 2007) –

In Project Monitoring and Controlling, the project manager's task is project tracking and reporting status to stakeholders, change management, quality and risk monitoring, and contracts administrating.

Project Closure: managing a claim and lessons learned (PMI, 2007) – In this phase, the project manager needs to get the project outcome accepted, release resources, measure and analyze stakeholder's feedback, and close the project.

The Future of the Project Management Coaching: Driving the Coach in Which Direction?

The aim of effective project management coaching is to let the project manager let the PM be able to stand on his/her own two feet. The aim of effective project management coaching is to let the project manager be able to stand on his/her own two feet. So how can the coach get it ? This is possible after the project manager has received a strong imprinting from the coach and a broad assurance of his or her strength in project management skills and competence. But also the coach needs to improve his or her competence in managing project manager support activities


Crawford, L. H. (1997). A global approach to project management. Proceedings of the 1997 AIPM National Conference, Gold Coast, 220–228.

Dilts, R. (2003). From coach to awakener. CAPITOLA, CA Meta Publications.

Lorenz, K., (1949). L'anello di Re Salomone.

Project Management Institute. (2007). Project Manager Competency Development Framework (PMDC) – Second Edition. Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute

Project Management Institute. (2008). A guide to the project management body of knowledge (PMBOK® guide)—Fourth edition. Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.

Withmore, J. (2009). Coaching for performance (4th ed.). London: Nicholas Brealey Publishing.

© 2010, Marcello Patrese – Guido Granchi
Originally published as a part of 2010 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Milan, Italy



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