D E V E L O P M E N T
Seven Keys to Success
Owen C. Gadeken hat does it take to be a successful program manager? The Department of
Defense has a tradition of successful program management, but where does leadership fit in this picture? While much has been written about leadership, there is some question about its application to program management and the PM. (I will use PM to include program, project, and product managers.) This article will explore the role of PM leadership as a critical link to achieving successful program outcomes.
Leadership vs. Management
We often use the terms leadership and management interchangeably or without defining them. For this article, I have adopted the definitions used by former Harvard professor
John Kotter in his classic Harvard Business Review article (December 2001)
“What Leaders Really Do.” According to Kotter, “leadership and management are two distinct and complementary systems of action. Each has its own function and complementary activities. Both are necessary for success.” To Kotter, management is about coping with complexity, and it relies on fundamentals skills of planning, organizing, and controlling; leadership is a broader concept that relies on setting strategic direction or vision and motivating and empowering people to achieve it.
and over 350 responses to written surveys. The results are summarized here into the seven key leadership behaviors most frequently exhibited by successful PMs.
The challenge of relating leadership to the program management environment has driven the Defense Acquisition University, in its ongoing research, to define critical
PM leadership competencies. This research, started in the late 1980s, now includes over 80 in-depth PM interviews
PM Development Model
Before I discuss the leadership behaviors, I would like to put the concept of PM leadership in the proper context.
Gadeken is a professor at the DAU Fort Belvoir campus. His current interest centers on helping program managers become effective leaders. Gadeken received his doctorate in engineering management from the George Washington University.
Defense AT&L: January-February 2005
Successful acquisition programs result from a combination of many contributing factors, some more controllable than others. Among the most controllable factors are the people who work on the program (the program office or integrated product teams) and how they are employed.
Chief among the team members is the leader, who normally has the title of PM.
All members of the team, especially the PM, need a broad range of knowledge, skills, and abilities to perform their jobs. As a foundation, acquisition professionals need knowledge of the policies and fundamental technical and business disciplines that are part of the defense acquisition process. Such knowledge is normally gained through both academic edu- FIGURE 1. Development Model for a Successful PM cation and job-related training. Then for each acquisition career field and specific job (such as they have progressed and excelled through a series of program manager), the acquisition professional needs technical and management jobs earlier in their careers. further knowledge along with management skills neces- The temptation then is to approach the PM job with the sary to put the knowledge into practice. Finally, to be- same mindset that led to success in the past. In most come a top performer in the specific field, there are cer- cases, that is a mistake. While technical and management tain key skills and perhaps some inherent abilities that skills are wonderful building blocks for a PM, new skills will invariably lead to top performance. A simplified view are also needed for the new role. As one industry PM, of this progression for the PM career field is illustrated in now a corporate vice president, put it: “I had a job change
Figure 1. Knowledge forms the base with management where I was going to run a significant