The competency framework of PMO managers based on the evolving role of PMOs


Director of Chairman's Office, Head of EPMO Team, Roads & Transport Authority


In the past few years, many organizations in the public and private sector established program and project management offices (PMOs) at both the enterprise as well as the departmental level. The roles and functions of these PMOs range from the simple collection and compilation of project information for top management reporting to the sophisticated organizational project management activities, including project prioritization and the institutionalization of project management policies and methodologies. Such a range of roles and functions requires PMO managers to possess a unique set of qualifications and skills to cope with the diverse nature of responsibilities placed on their shoulders. Furthermore, leadership competency is by far most important for such a role.

This paper explores the development of a competency framework for PMO managers. The paper will provide a mechanism and a progression tool that can be used to develop PMO manager for this rapidly developing role. The framework covers the education, qualifications, experience and skills required to fill that role. It will be shown that the competencies required for that role are not limited to project management competencies but should also involve business and leadership competencies, and very importantly, personal behavioral competencies. Moreover, the mechanism to develop successful PMO managers will be detailed and discussed considering the findings of the Project Management Institute's 2013 Pulse of the Profession™.


Research by PMI and many other project management practitioners have identified the critical role of a PMO within an organization, and the impact of such PMO on strategy implementation and decision-making of C-Suite (the highest-level executives). The PMO Frameworks (PMI, 2013c) provides an overview of the types of PMOs that generally exist and how these PMOs create value. It's a good tool for PMO managers to identify the main role of their PMOs and to understand how they can contribute to drive organizational success. This simply indicates that a PMO manager is playing a main role in the organization; definitely the role would vary based on the type of PMOs. In this paper, we focus on the enterprise program management office/center of excellence. For different types of PMOs, refer to PMI's Pulse of the Profession™: The PMO Frameworks (2013c).

The PMI report on the impact of PMO on strategy implementation (PMI, 2013b) made it clear that high-performing PMOs nurture capabilities that enable organizations to successfully implement strategy, contribute more value to their organization, and ultimately impact financial performance. So, this clearly shows that a PMO manager plays a critical role in an organization. As mentioned in PMI's Pulse of the Profession™ (PMI, 2013a) the percentage of organization with enterprise responsibilities PMO is increasing and growing rapidly more than those that are serving a department or a division, thus the need of choosing the right talent to manage such EPMOs (Enterprise Program Management Office) is essential.

High-performing PMOs are more than three times as likely to realize their potential in contributing value to their organizations as low-performing PMOs (56% verses 17%) and are much more likely to rank their company financial performance as “above average”: 69% versus 41%. (PMI, 2013b)

PMI's in-depth research on PMOs identifies specific capabilities within three broad areas that demonstrate how high-performing PMOs effectively implement the strategy of the organization and drive business value (PMI, 2013b). The areas are:

  • Create an organizational culture of project management.
  • Continually evaluate PMO performance.
  • Evolve and improve through knowledge management and change management.

We believe that those competencies need to be mapped to certain competencies an EPMO manager should possess, as we will explain in this paper. Furthermore, as mentioned in The Pulse of the Profession™ (PMI, 2013a) the best performing organizations approach project, program, and portfolio management differently from their peers:

1. They create efficiencies to drive organizational success.

2. They focus on talent management and improving its role in project management.

3. They employ project, program, and portfolio management practices strategically.

Training and development in project management has declined since 2010. Less than half have a process to develop project management competency (45%, down from 52% in 2010) or have a process to mature existing project management practices (44%, down from 51% in 2010) (PMI, 2013a).

Referring to the need to focus on talent management and developing capabilities within project management to be able to drive organizational success, we propose in this paper a competency framework for EPMO managers. We start by discussing the different roles an EPMO manager can play in the organization and the importance of having the right talent for such role; then we proceed with our proposed framework that focuses on building capabilities of EPMO managers via our proposed model: Competency Based Framework for an EPMO Manager (CBEM 4x4).

The Different Types of EPMO Manager

Firms risk US$135 million for every US$1 billion spent on projects (PMI, 2013a). With this amount of money at stake, it is not surprising that Pulse research also shows that the number of PMOs in organizations is generally on the rise, with about 70% of organizations having one, compared with just 61% in 2006. To be able to drive such value, PMOs need to speak the language of the C-Suite and ensure alignment with objectives. PMOs are equipped with a high level of decision making authority, as well as influence on the C-Suite level (PMI, 2013b). In order for the PMO to be able to speak the language of the C-Suite, certain capabilities need to be available in the EPMO manager; we propose the different roles in following figure, which shows four types of an EPMO manager based on the competency and the formal executive power.


Exhibit 1 – Type of EPMO managers.

An EPMO manager needs first to understand to which category he/she belongs, based on that a development plan to be set. It is essential that this needs to be realized as well by the CEO and accordingly agree on the next move. In some cases, the EPMO manager might need to be changed with a more competent one. In the coming sections, we will elaborate more on our proposed competency framework.

Competency Based Framework for an EPMO Manager (CBEM 4x4)

As highlighted in The PMO frameworks (PMI, 2013c), there are many types of PMOs. In this paper, we focus on enterprise and center of excellence PMOs, more details of this PMO type are explained in Faridoon (2011) and Perry (2013). This type of PMO is often responsible for alignment of project and program work to corporate strategy, establishing and ensuring appropriate enterprise governance, and performing portfolio management functions to ensure strategy alignment and benefits realization. Furthermore, considering the center of excellence role, such PMO supports project work by equipping the organization with methodologies, standards, and tools to enable project managers to better deliver projects. This type of PMO also increases the capability of the organization through good practices and a central point of contact for project managers.


Exhibit 2 – The four competencies of the framework.

To be able to manage and run an EPMO that is in charge of the above mentioned functions, we propose the following model that consists of four competency areas as shown in Exhibit 2 above:

  1. Project Management Competencies
  2. Functional Competencies
  3. Core Competencies
  4. Personal Competencies

Project Management Competencies

This would cover the project management Knowledge Areas as detailed in A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) — Fifth Edition. It's essential that the EPMO manager is knowledgeable in the different Knowledge Areas; this should allow the EPMO manager to speak the same language of project managers, thus to provide the required support and be able to coordinate the governance and reporting. Most importantly, it would support the decision making capability. Another envisaged advantage is being able to translate certain reporting and data from this level to the C-Suite.

Functional Competencies

This competency is more relevant to the industry or the line of business of the organization. The role of EPMO is to drive success and enable strategy implementation. In order to enable strategy implementation, an understanding of the core function is a key success factor; it would simply facilitate EPMO decision making and support projects monitoring and analysis. The functional competency would impact the business in different levels leading to a better monitoring and understanding projects issues and risks.

Core Competencies

This set of competencies relates to the leadership competencies. We have used the leadership competency framework of roads and transport authority (RTA) as an example here. It highly depends on the organization and thus would vary from one to another, so we leave it to each organization to define the required set of competencies. Nevertheless, certain competencies are common and recommended, such competencies go in line with the required competencies of a PMO as mentioned in The PMO Frameworks (PMI, 2013c) such as the change management and effective communication. We have the following in leadership competencies:

  • Efficiency and Effectiveness
  • Change Management and Innovation
  • Developing Self and others
  • Strategic Focus
  • Problem Solving and Decision making
  • Effective Communication

Personal Competencies

As Shawn explained in his book, The Happiness Advantage (2010), happiness fuels success, not the other way around. When we are positive, our brains become more engaged, creative, motivated, energetic, resilient, and productive at work. He explains that the three greatest predictors of happiness are optimism (the belief your behavior will eventually matter), social connection, and how we perceive stress (as a challenge or as a threat). Recently HH Sheikh Mohammed ben Rashid, Prime Minster and the Ruler of Dubai, shared his leadership philosophy in his book Flashes of Thoughts (2013). HH explained that a leader should strive to make people happy at work so that they can easily make their clients happy on the other end. This simply shows that happiness is the main driver of success and motivation at work. Great leaders realize such facts and drive the mindset and behavior shift towards it. Based on this philosophy, we derive four main behaviors within this competency area.

  1. Positive energy/attitude
    • As highlighted in The Impact of PMOs in Strategy Implementation (PMI, 2013b), sharing insights and experiences with others in the organization improves the value PMO brings to the business…
    • How to build trust in an EPMO manager by different stakeholders (CEO, PMs, team, external parties…)
    • How to exhibit certain point of view, provide advice, negotiate, and persuade by being positive and accepting differing points of view.
  2. Driving Happiness
    • How to encourage team members to work with joy and passion.
    • How to make stakeholders satisfied.
    • How to encourage team members to drive happiness while dealing with others in the organization.
  3. Social Engagement
    In the world of social media and engagement with new and aggressive generations, the social connections are essential and key to happiness.
    • How active on social media.
    • How active within organization, attending events, gathering….
    • How connected with employees within the organizations on different levels.
  4. Enthusiasm for others
    • How to acknowledge and show appreciation for other's success in different situations.
    • How to encourage others to show enthusiasm by modeling it.


We define four levels of progressions for the above mentioned competencies; the development of an EPMO manager would simply be achieved by moving from one level to another. The levels are:

  1. Entry (Young)
  2. Foundation (Breathing)
  3. Experienced (Living)
  4. Leadership (Revolutionary)

Competency Framework

The requirements of each level in the four competencies areas are shown in Exhibit 3. The EPMO manager needs to achieve all set criterions within each level and competency area.


Exhibit 3 – The development framework of EPMO manager.

Progression/Development Mechanism

An internal accreditation program to be developed for the above model, considering two cases for the progression mechanism: Hiring a new EPMO manager and developing an existing EMPO manager, the EPMO manager is required to make a progression from one level to another in not more than three years (would vary from one organization to another). Next, we will give an example for each case.

New EPMO Manager

In this case, the level will be chosen based on the status of the candidate in the four areas, if two or more areas met in same level, then the candidate will be placed in that level. If the candidate achieves one area in each level, then the panel will decide the best level based on the interview. In our example, an organization (assuming RTA) is going to hire a new EPMO manager, so the candidate will be assessed against the four areas and accordingly the right level to be chosen. A panel is formed for the interview and the assessment. Exhibit 4 shows all details about the candidate and how it is mapped to the four areas:


Exhibit 4 – Example of new EPMO manager.

The example above shows that the candidate will be accepted and placed on Level 1 for passing 3 areas on that level. A development plan should be created for the candidate to be moved to next level within 3 years.

An Existing EPMO Manager

End of the year an existing EPMO manager is assessed by a formed panel regarding the progression to next level, assuming the EPMO manager has already completed three years in the current level. The panel will decide and approve the progression based on the interview with all submitted documents, examples, and required tests. In this case, the EPMO manager must pass the four areas of the desired level. Assuming an EPMO manager is currently on Level 3, then he needs to meet all requirements of Level 3 as shown in Exhibit 3 to be approved on Level 4 by the panel.


PMOs continue to evolve. The mandates of PMOs differ from one organization to another. In this paper we focused on the Enterprise PMO (EPMO). As mentioned in PMI's Pulse of Profession™ (2013a) the percentage of organization with enterprise responsibilities PMO is increasing and growing rapidly more than those that are serving a department or a division. Some organizations are creating this type of PMO for the first time, others, not having had the success they had hoped for, are re-evaluating the role. In all cases, the success and effectiveness of the EPMO depends on the authority level and decision making capability of the offices that have the power to influence the C-Suite level; this simply emphasizes the importance of the talent management and having the right people within this office. Specifically, in this paper we focus on the role of the EPMO manager. We propose a framework that can be used to advance the role of PMO manager from a supportive to an advisory role to the CEO. The framework covers four competency areas and four progression levels. Among the proposed competencies, we propose an area focused on personal behavior that drives happiness at work and contributes to motivating others and business success. We believe that such a framework would enable an EPMO manager to move from crawling to walking upright to leading the organization and contributing to strategy implementation.

Faridoon, L. (2011, Jan). Organizational Project Management Governance Model. PMI-AGC International Conference 2011, AGC, Kingdom of Bahrain.

HH Al Maktoum, M. (2013). Flashes of thoughts. Motivate Publishing, Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Perry, M. (2013). Business driven PMO success stories. Plantation, FL: J. Ross Publishing.

Project Management Institute. (2013a). Pulse of the profession™: The high cost of low performance. Newtown Square, PA: Author.

Project Management Institute. (2013b). Pulse of the profession™: In-Depth report: The impact of PMOs in strategy implementation. Newtown Square, PA: Author.

Project Management Institute. (2013c). Pulse of the profession™: The PMO frameworks. Newtown Square, PA: Author.

Project Management Institute. (2013d). A guide to the project management body of knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) – Fifth Edition. Newtown Square, PA: Author.

Shawn, Achor. (2010). The happiness advantage: The seven principles of positive psychology that fuel success and performance at work. Crown Publishing.

© 2014, Laila Faridoon
Originally published as a part of the 2014 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Dubai, UAE



Related Content

  • Thought Leadership Series

    El éxito de las PMO en Latinoamérica member content open

    Los proyectos en América Latina se encuentran en un punto crucial. En toda la región, desde la infraestructura hasta las finanzas, desde la TI hasta el desarrollo sostenible, las organizaciones…

  • Thought Leadership Series

    O sucesso do EGP na América Latina member content open

    Os projetos na América Latina estão em um ponto crucial. Em toda a região, da infraestrutura às finanças, da TI ao desenvolvimento sustentável, as organizações estão implantando iniciativas para…

  • Thought Leadership Series

    Impumelelo Ye-PMO Emazweni Ase-Afrika Aseningizimu YeSahara member content open

    Ukuze ungene ujule ezinseleleni eziyingqayizivele namathuba izinhlangano kanye nabaphathi bephrojekthi ezingxenyeni ezahlukene zomhlaba, I-Project Management Institute (PMI), igunya elihamba…

  • Thought Leadership Series

    nadij maktab 'iidarat almashrue member content open

    taeawun maehad 'iidarat almasharie (PMI) , aljihat alraayidat ealmyan fi 'iidarat almasharie , washarikat alkhadamat almihniat alealamiat PwC , limuealajat alhalat alhaliat linadj maktab 'iidarat…

  • Thought Leadership Series

    Xiàngmù guǎnlǐ bàngōngshì chéngshú dù member content open

    Shìjiè lǐngxiān de xiàngmù guǎnlǐ quánwēi xiàngmù guǎnlǐ xiéhuì (PMI) hé quánqiú zhuānyè fúwù gōngsī pǔ huá yǒng dào xiéshǒu hézuò, tōngguò chuàngjiàn dìngzhì de PMO chéngshú dù zhǐ shǔ lái jiějué…