Programme Directors: More than project managers, more like acrobats with stamina

Programme Directors: More than project managers, more like acrobats with stamina

Ask recruiters what you need to be a successful Programme Director and they may tell you the following:

‘….you need to be someone with a disciplined approach to project management who can deliver project execution on time and on budget…..’ or maybe that you need to be

‘….adept at using technology to streamline business outcomes, increase productivity, drive efficiencies and deliver savings….’

For some, you also have to be an expert in change management, business intelligence, assurance and strategy, comms and engagement and relationship management; you have to understand outcomes and be relentlessly focused on quality as well as be a principled and skilled leader who can grow capabilities in almost any team of people. Oh, and you have to be generally fun to work with!

And of course, you do need to be all these things and much, much more. But, in my experience, above all the business school skills, the EQI and the work based competencies, there are 2 qualities that a successful Programme Director just absolutely has to possess; one is agility and the other is resilience.

A good Programme Director has to be organisationally nimble; moving between stakeholders and across projects like continually climbing and descending a complex series of interconnected ‘ladders’.

They must navigate the prerequisites at the top of the ladder (accountability, regulation, politics and strategy) as well the fundamentals that form the very foundations of the programme, (people, processes, values and delivery).

They must reach across to other ladders to smooth inter-departmental and inter-organisational conflict and build new ladders where none existed before. They must create a stable form, a fit for purpose structure, a space for mobility with an eye on design; all the time keeping a precautionary view on the overall stability of this complex web of ladders, ultimately deflecting things that may lead to them being inadvertently toppled. They must be comfortable at the top and familiar with the bottom. They must balance and stretch and point and hold. They must bend and straighten, stand firm and flex. Programme Directors have to be acrobatic!

And to be this continually agile Programme Directors have to be strong. They have to be resilient.

It takes relentless energy and optimism to operate across the multiple rungs in a complex set of programme ladders. While moving around and avoiding the gaps, Programme Directors are reassuring those in precarious positions that help is on its way. Mitigation abounds with the Programme Director. They are checking foundations while scaling new heights. They are constantly solving the structural engineering challenges that the programme ladders throw up; and all with integrity and enthusiasm for bouncing back even when a ladder gets all bent out of shape. Programme Directors have stamina! They have to be resilient.

So Programme Directors are not glorified Project Managers, though excellent Project Managers are essential in any high performing programme. Programme Directors are acrobats with stamina.