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How leadership can make a difference in projects

John Grill Centre alumna reflects on her experience of the program

After completing the ELMP program, Fiona Mahony moved into a role responsible for defining the digital capability roadmap for one of Australia’s leading telecommunications company and the delivery of an investment portfolio of digital enablement programs.

Fiona Mahony was part of the inaugural cohort on the ELMP program, completeing the course work in 2016.

Alumni inside view: Fiona Mahony (cohort 1, 2016)

“I came to the ELMP program with a background in delivering IT and capability improvement programs within Telecommunications and Financial Services sectors” says Fiona. Having worked predominantly in delivery and operations roles, I was interested in learning about strategy development and building on my understanding of strategic design.”

Nominated by her director to join the Executive Leadership in Major Projects (ELMP) program, within three months of completing the program, Fiona was promoted.

She is now responsible for defining the digital capability roadmap for a leading telecommunications company in Australia and for the delivery of a multi-million dollar investment portfolio of digital enablement programs.

For Fiona, one of the major benefits of joining the ELMP program was that it focused on leadership rather than management, and that it attracted a cohort of leaders of projects with experience running major projects globally. A rich guest lecture program featuring high calibre executive leaders who shared their experiences gave her great insight into the challenges associated with good leadership in major projects. 

“Anna Booth, the Deputy President of Fair Work Australia, made a real impression on me,” says Fiona. “She brings an incredibly positive energy to her work mediating tough industrial disputes. I learned about the commitment she makes that ‘no one leaves the table until agreement is reached’. 

Another senior executive invited to address the cohort spoke about making tough project leadership decisions in the face of popular opinion. “I often think of this when I’m making hard decisions,” says Fiona. “I could easily be swept along by popular opinion, but I now recognise that even the greatest leaders can have moments of self-doubt, or even self-deception, before having the courage to make the best decision they can at the time.”

Fiona found the collegiate atmosphere of the ELMP to be an incredibly valuable part of the experience. The group of senior project leaders worked on exercises together throughout the modules to hone their leadership skills to improve project outcomes.

“By working together my cohort achieved a remarkable level of empathy for each other,” says Fiona. “This encouraged us to give and receive authentic feedback, helping to accelerate our personal development and growth.”

Fiona also found that the ELMP gave her the ability to understand multiple perspectives, which increased her business acuity, as well as interpersonal effectiveness. 

“I think it’s natural at first to assume a defensive position when confronted with strong opposing views,” says Fiona. “Particularly if they appear illogical, motivated by self-interest or are poorly expressed. I’m learning to be more curious, to question my initial impressions and to try to understand a broader context that might not be at first obvious.”

Fiona recently became involved in a challenging workplace conversation between two project managers regarding a dispute around significant costings to a business case. 

“Rather than immediately leaping to support one side or the other, I asked to better understand the scope of work associated with the cost item,” says Fiona. By becoming more curious, we identified the way in which the scope of the work related to foundational elements in both programs. We were able to frame the expense in a consistent, acceptable way within the business case.”

As a result of her studies, Fiona’s director and executive director saw significant improvement in her ability to communicate complex technical and non-technical issues. So much so, Fiona was recently invited to present at her company's large-scale industry event, Business Connect.

“The ELMP has given me the confidence to communicate clearly and effectively,” says Fiona. “I was able to connect with my audience with warmth and authenticity. Whether they be C-Suite executives or developers, I’ve learnt how to adapt my communication skills to a wide range audiences.” 

Fiona feels the ELMP has also encouraged her to be more reflective in her leadership practice. As a result, she feels she now has far greater insight into how she shows up as a leader day-to-day.

“I’ve learnt that as a leader, it’s a fundamental part of my role to proactively shape my team’s understanding of events, and to tell the stories that will motivate and encourage them,” says Fiona. “I’ve done this by offering alternative, more positive framing of events, frequently reflecting on whether I’ve uncritically accepted popular opinion and whether I’m effectively inspiring and giving direction to the people within my sphere.”

The John Grill Centre for Project Leadership was established in 2012 to inspire success in major projects. The centre’s flagship executive education program, the Executive Leadership in Major Projects, was launched with its first cohort in August 2014. Participants include leaders working on major Australian and international projects across Asia, Middle East, US and Australia, including Australian infrastructure, banking & finance, telecommunications, technology and resources projects.

Applications for the 2019 ELMP program closes late April 2019.