Top 5 Soft Skills you need to be the best PMO leader

PMO leaders can often get lost in crunching numbers and getting results, leaning on their technical know-how to get the job done. This often results in the underestimation of soft skills – critical skills that are just as important, and in some cases, even more important than technical hard skills alone.

A successful PMO starts with all-rounded PMO leaders and we are here to help you become the best PMO leader you can be. To get you ahead of the game, we have compiled a list of the top 5 soft skills we believe are the most crucial for successful PMO leaders.


1. Communication is key for great PMO leaders

“The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” – George Bernard Shaw

You have probably heard this so many times that it almost sounds like a broken record player, but this simple truth is truly the foundation for every successful PMO leader. Communication is key.

The job of a PMO leader is to coordinate with people across all levels of the business – from the C-Suite leaders to the everyday suppliers. You need to be able to coordinate with stakeholders, share your vision and keep everyone on the same page.

But don’t fall into the trap of believing that communication is all about talking or simply sharing information. Being a good communicator is about giving value for the listener and the best way to do that is simple – by listening.

We all know the feeling of inbox overload and unnecessarily long group chats. But we also know the feeling of accidentally missing out on crucial information in the wide sea of communication.

Becoming an effective communicator involves properly listening, ensuring proper understanding and filtering what information is necessary to add value to both you and the person you are communicating with. Sometimes less is more and it’s a skill that is developed with time and experience.

How to develop this skill: Practice listening, make sure everyone understands, and always ask yourself, “Is this adding value for the both of us?”

2. Integrity builds foundations for your PMO

Though working in PMO may feel like a numbers game, it’s not just about results but also about how you get them.

Trust and honesty are critical to effective PMOs. As the overarching coordinator within the business, PMO leaders need to be able to inspire trust in their employees and stakeholders. People need to know PMO leaders are making decision based on informed and honest processes that are fair and are not giving in to favouritism. PMO leaders need to be held accountable to the commitments they make and be trusted by all stakeholders that they have their best interests in mind.

The worst thing that could happen for a PMO is for stakeholders to withhold critical information because they believe it would leave them in a disadvantage, leading to a breakdown of communication and the rise of costly blind spots.

Peter Taylor in his book Leading Successful PMOs states that one of the biggest challenges of a PMO is making the whole organization buy-in to the PMO’s functions and needs. PMO leaders need to make sure all stakeholders are invested in the PMO and believes in the PMO initiative.

Don’t underestimate how ownership, honesty and integrity will translate to all your stakeholders. The more trust people have in you, the more trust they have in the PMO and the more effective you can be at achieving long-lasting results.

How to develop this skill: Remember is not just what you do, but how you do it. It’s all about building trust.

3. Presentation matters for PMO leaders

There’s no point in having the best information, ideas and data but not being able to present it in an effective manner. Linking back to the importance of communication and generating organizational buy-in, good presentations help make complex data simple, understandable and adds value to the listener.

A unique skill which is become increasing important for effective presentations is story telling.

Now, this doesn’t mean that you should turn your next weekly meeting presentation into a theatrical show. Storytelling is about being engaging and relatable so you can guide people through the necessary information.

Most stakeholders won’t understand all the complexities of the PMO and will most probably zone out when you start talking about all the data. Some stakeholders may even be on the fence with the PMO altogether. A lot of PMO activities are based on big strategies which can feel far-removed from your listeners. Through storytelling, PMO leaders can guide people through their vision and strategy, personalize their position to present the value-added to the listeners and create the necessary trust in the PMO that enables them to be successful.

Becoming a good presenter may also require some additional hard skills in data visualization and presentation making, but the core should always be about giving people the most value in the most relatable way.

How to develop this skill: Think from your listeners perspective and build a story that shows them the benefit of the PMO for them.

4. Leadership and Teamwork is essential to every PMO leader

Leadership isn’t only for those at the top level. As the strategic hub for a business, every role within the PMO needs leadership skills. This harks back to our points on building trust and organizational buy-in. The PMO has to coordinate with various stakeholders and needs to conduct themselves in ways that builds credibility in the PMO.

Every person within the PMO is an extension of the PMO, its activities and its potential. If a representing PMO officer wants to push for a new strategic vision yet does not have the character to support its claims, it doesn’t reflect well on the PMO.

It’s a classic case of leading by example. A prominent leadership model which could best serve PMO leaders is the servant leadership model. This model, which puts the needs of employees first and aims to develop from the bottom up, is a very effective way of building trust and credibility with stakeholders.

By extension, teamwork is the heartbeat of successful PMOs. As a department with a focus on bringing out the best in your teams, projects and resources – being able to collaborate effectively is a crucial skill.

People can sometimes be hard to understand but they are also your biggest assets as a PMO leader. Learning to identify people’s talents and navigating different personalities and potential tension points will allow you to bring the best out of people, giving you the results you want to see.

It’s time to leave your ego at the door. Your success is built on how well you work with and invest in your teams.

How to develop this skill: Lead by example and you’ll see – it’s contagious! Your team is your biggest asset so learn to find the gold in them.

5. Flexibility and Adaptability keeps the best PMO leaders ahead

Keep calm and carry on.

Successful PMO leaders need to be able to keep calm under pressure and that comes from being both flexible and adaptable. With unprecedented times like these, where our world and regulations are changing from one day to the next, these skills are absolutely necessary.

As the strategic hub of the business, PMO leaders need to be a source of stability and confidence when everything seems to be going lopsided (which sadly happen more often than not). Being able adjust to new situations, understand the new variables and creating new solutions is a part of the modern PMO leader’s everyday life.

However, being flexible and adaptable isn’t limited to situational contexts. PMO itself is always changing and there is no one-size-fits-all magic bullet to solve all your problems. Models are changing, practices are evolving, and technology is adapting to help us become better at our jobs.

Don’t get left behind by all these changes that can put you ahead of the game. Embrace the change and always be ready to learn new ways of becoming more effective.

How to develop this skill: Keep your options open and keep a wide view of all the variables so you can shift tracks when you need to!

Want to start putting words into action? We’ve built a free downloadable Project Manager Skills Development Checklist so you can make real steps to becoming the best PMO leader there is! Now you’ve got the skills and the tools to be a successful PMO leader – it’s time to get you out there and score your dream job. Check out our free network which connects talented PMO leaders like you to our partner network.

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