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Four leadership skills for future-ready project delivery

28 May 2021

Adapting to meet modern project management challenges

In a rapidly changing business landscape, leading major projects to success requires a new set of project management and leadership skills.

The way we operate is changing significantly as industry responds to rapid social, technological and cultural changes. Projects across critical industries such as infrastructure, construction, and resources can now have major impacts on wider industry dynamics, the regulatory landscape, and the environment – to name a few.

Most major projects operate in an unstructured environment and are becoming more complex in terms of technology, evolving project scope, organisational changes, and the interrelationships between stakeholders and government.

According to Michael Curtin, Director for Executive Leadership in Major Projects (ELMP) program, leaders need to adapt their skills to prepare for future project management to operate fundamentally differently.

Group of colleagues working on a project

“While some aspects of leadership, such as setting a vision, executing on strategy, and applying methodologies to manage and deliver complex projects will remain, the future leader will need to possess a new arsenal of skills.

"For instance, to lead effectively they need the ability to manage ‘grey spaces’ within projects and their stakeholders.”

He lists four leadership skills that are becoming key to delivering major projects:

1. Adapting leadership practice to suit modern project management

Successful organisations are shifting from centralised power and decision-making structures to a distributed, shared leadership model, which involves a shift from ‘power over’ to ‘power with’. Adapting leadership practice ensures projects can be managed in this new, unstable environment.

“Modern leaders use evidence-based, contemporary methods, theories and research to understand human behaviour. They develop models and mindsets to increase their leadership reach and support project outcomes.”

With traditional project management approaches no longer fit for dealing with complex projects,  project leaders must apply their experience, knowledge and skills to adapt new and innovative techniques.

2. Building high-performing project teams to support the project

The increasingly complex nature of projects requires acknowledgement and incorporation of the project’s human, contextual, and emergent elements. This includes understanding the group dynamics in high-performing teams, which enables leaders to develop strategies and tactics to increase their team’s capability and engagement.

“The most effective leadership strategies drive organisational change and prepare for the future while maintaining team performance”.

3. Taking a collaborative approach to engagement and stakeholder alignment

In project management, a transformational shift from an information age of interrelated systems to a knowledge area is highlighting a focus on interconnected capabilities. Multidisciplinary knowledge and skills are critical to managing internal and external stakeholders. 

Leveraging established capabilities is a valuable tool to engage with a diverse set of stakeholders. Building the necessary capabilities, behaviours, and mindsets ensures the project ecosystem is engaged and motivated to achieve success.

4. Applying a strategic mindset to your projects

Finally, strong leaders expand their strategic view to account for the environment they operate in. In a complex landscape, embracing and enabling for innovation, commitment and accountability sets a project up for success despite a fast-changing environment.

Two colleagues in business meeting

“We can no longer assume that projects can be fully controlled. Adapting to these uncertainties allows project leaders to adjust their strategies accordingly.

"They must find ways to understand projects as a bigger dynamic system of value and meaning for now and the future”.


The Executive Leadership in Major Projects (ELMP) program equips modern project leaders to handle the complex and dynamic workplace. Delivered virtually, it teaches the necessary skills to guide high-performing teams and handle negotiations in complex environments.

The interactive program is offered by the School of Project Management in collaboration with the John Grill Institute for Project Leadership, and is tailored to the needs of businesses and experienced professionals in project industries.

Registrations for the 2021 ELMP cohort will close on 30 June, 2021.  Email john-grill.institute@sydney.edu.au for more information, or submit your application.