Project Management Institute

Power Shift

Focus on Strategy and Empathy to Align with a New PMO


By Karen Smits

The project management office (PMO) is responsible for creating the project culture in an organization. So when organizations launch a PMO, or shift or expand the focus of an existing PMO, they are creating a new core environment to which project professionals must adapt.

Although many technical aspects of the PMO might be familiar, education is crucial in order to quickly ensure teams align fully with the PMO's strategy and governance. Here are three ways that project managers can help others transition to PMO-driven culture change:

1. Identify the strategic objectives of the PMO.

If you understand the PMO's purpose within the organization and recognize how it's aligned with corporate strategy, you will have a better vision for your project and a clear template for sharing that vision across the team. Your project should translate strategic objectives of the PMO into everyday project practices. For example, if the PMO's goal is to improve training and organizational support for delivery staff, how can you create time and space for your project team to focus on skills development? What can you do to enhance collaboration in and between projects?

2. Understand the organizational structure, the clients and the team.

Typically, project stakeholders and team members have great insight into the PMO's structure. But that framework can sometimes look a bit fuzzy to those outside the PMO. A project manager once told me she had encountered several PMOs where this information wasn't clear—so she gathered it herself. There was no organization chart available, so she developed one, presented it to her team and showed that she was on top of the game. By providing team members with clarifying information, they have better context to understand expectations and how to meet them.

3. Build empathy and trust within the team.

A new PMO can mean new faces and reshuffled teams, which can make it difficult to build collaborative relationships. Project managers must show empathy and gain the trust of team members within the wider PMO. Storytelling is a good tool for building trust. Active listening that includes asking powerful questions is another good way to get to know the people around you and understand the culture of the PMO. Over time, it won't feel like a new group; it will feel like your group.

Project managers must become change agents to ensure teams properly integrate with a new PMO. Your behavior sets an example for the team. A positive attitude will go a long way toward creating a project culture that supports and achieves the goals of the PMO. PM

img Karen Smits, PhD, is an organizational anthropologist working at Practical Thinking Group in Sydney, Australia. She can be reached at
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.



Related Content

  • Why Great Ideas Fail and How to Make Sure They Don't

    By Vargas, Ricardo Viana | Conforto, Edivandro Carlos | Oumarou, Tahirou Assane To reduce failure rates and successfully deliver strategies in 2020 and beyond, organizations must overcome disruptive forces and flip posing challenges to opportunities and advantages. It all…

  • Pulse of the Profession

    Tomorrow's Teams Today

    By PMI PMI research reveals that it’s the organizations with creative, collaborative and agile teams that will thrive in The Project Economy.

  • PM Network

    Vital Signs

    Transforming horizon-focused strategic visions into here-and-now reality can't happen in a vacuum. Instead, project leaders must cultivate a deep understanding of the business, technological,…

  • PM Network

    Power to Change

    By Tayel, Jess Many organizations are undergoing (or will soon undergo) a business transformation program geared toward growth and creating a competitive advantage. When successful, these programs bring about a…

  • PM Network

    Disruption Done Right

    By Mustafa, Abid The digital revolution can't be stopped—but it can stop organizations. According to a 2019 global survey by Couchbase, 81 percent of enterprises had a digital transformation project fail, suffer…