Become Your Own Project

Image of Jacqueline Van Pelt, standing in an office with her arms crossed

Jacqueline Van Pelt, a program manager and rising star at BAE Systems, has been very fortunate to have had several great managers and leaders support her professional growth. 

“There is some level of osmosis or just being around really passionate, purpose-driven, successful people that have a lot of qualities that you'd like to emulate,” says Van Pelt, who started as a consultant in the defense industry before joining BAE Systems, a leading defense contractor.

Van Pelt says one huge step in her journey was the opportunity to play an important role in reinvigorating a project management office (PMO). The PMO was redefining its purpose and mission, which included developing program leaders, building a culture of accountability and establishing dependable delivery through continuous improvement and customer focus. 

The experience provided valuable mentorship to Van Pelt. “One of the vice presidents told me multiple times, ‘Jacqui I want you to question everything. I want you to ask why. I don't want you to just do. I want you to make sure that you understand the purpose and the strategy and that you're fully on board.’”  

From the beginning, Van Pelt knew she was a part of something important, with a strong mentor backing her up. 

The real challenge Van Pelt faced, and one that pushed her to grow, was how best to communicate change to stakeholders and project and program managers.  

“I was really surprised at how much it really was not just about doing, but about interactions and relationships, communicating, getting everyone's input and then assembling that into sort of a mission and vision that everyone could get behind.” 

This shift in mindset from “a facts and numbers” to human interaction was something Van Pelt realized was critical to the PMO’s success—and her own. She quickly understood that the first things she needed to establish were a common vision, agreement among different stakeholders and success in building consensus. 

Van Pelt also learned that establishing relationships with executives can be tricky. “When you're dealing in any situation as a project manager, trying to be a leader, trying to make progress, you need to value your own perspective first so that others will as well,” she says. “I really had to recognize that I did have a valuable perspective to offer, even though it might not be the traditionally valued perspective and that was why I was there.”  

Van Pelt found that harnessing “Power Posing”—taking a power pose a couple of times before entering a room to present to and influence a group—helped remind her that she is responsible for her own power.  

Another tip she offers: Develop your own sense of when to speak up and when to listen. “There's certainly a time when it's time to offer your perspective, maybe offer a candid assessment that's contrary to the general consensus and then there are other times when you just need to get on board and move out.” 

Ultimately, Van Pelt believes that developing into a successful leader is largely driven by the strength of relationships one has with people in the room. It’s about establishing a level of trust with colleagues, which allows you to provide candid assessments, ask awkward questions when needed and stand behind decisions. 

“I once heard that trust is the conduit for influence and therefore it's the medium through which ideas travel,” says Van Pelt.

Good advice as you embark on your leadership journey! 


This article is based on Your Personal Project, which originally aired on Projectified® with PMI, available on iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play music or