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How to Develop PMO Leaders that Have a Seat at the Executive Table

Nov 08, 2023
How to Develop PMO Leaders that Have a Seat at the Executive Table

The project economy has arrived, so says Antonio Nieto-Rodriguez in his Harvard Business Review article by the same name. He postulates that projects have displaced operations as the economic engine of our time, and asserts that by the year 2027, some 88 million people around the globe are likely to be working in some form of project management (Nieto-Rodriguez, 2021). 

Here’s the good news. Many executives are embracing this new economy. As one senior IBM talent executive stated, “Soon we will no longer have job descriptions. We will only have project roles.”  (Nieto-Rodriguez, p. 2). 

The bad news? Not everyone buys into this project economy. Another executive is quoted as saying, “If you want to make sure something is not done, make it a project” (Nieto-Rodriguez, p. 2). 


Regardless of where you fall on this spectrum, the project economy is not going away. It’s just a matter of how fast it will get here. What can you do as an Executive to make sure your organization is prepared? Develop your PMO Leaders.  

How can this be done? 

How High Potential Individuals are Treated Outside of the PMO 

First, think about how high potential individuals (HIPOs) are treated in areas of a company outside the PMO. These people may be in sales, finance, operations, marketing, or even legal. Management regularly scans the organization for noteworthy individuals, and upon review, classifies them as having high potential. Once they’ve been tagged with this very positive label, the machine kicks in and these HIPOs receive: 

  • Customized development plans - HIPOs will receive an assessment of their strengths and weaknesses. Personal plans are then developed for them to optimize their strengths and shore up (or eliminate) their weaknesses.  
  • Mentoring and coaching - Part of this development plan will include time with mentors who have “been there, done that” and can help plot a similar course. It can also include time with coaches to improve in certain areas such as public speaking, executive presence, or another managerial skill. 
  • Training and development - Budgeted training and development will pick up where mentors and coaches leave off. This advanced training will round out what this HIPO needs to further their career. 
  • Exposure to senior leadership - It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. That’s especially true when it comes to nurturing HIPOs in an organization. High performing individuals are given opportunities to present to, work with, and learn from high-powered executives in the C-suite. All of this culminates in building solid relationships. 
  • Regular feedback - HIPOs will receive honest and candid feedback from their leaders and executives with the intent to tell them where they are doing well, what’s gotten better, and what still needs help. 
  • Succession planning - What do these people have a high potential for? For taking on more responsibility across the organization. Once they get to a certain point, they know they are being groomed to replace someone. 
  • Challenging assignments - Finally, HIPOs receive the most challenging and rewarding assignments to work on. This is the playground to deploy their development plan and implement extra training. 

Why do companies invest in high potential people? It’s good for the organization and prepares that person for running the company. The irony is that companies are steering away from the conventional operations economy where most HIPOs are nurtured and heading towards a project economy.  

Where will these future project economy leaders come from? 

Will Future CEOs Come from the PMO? 

Well, it’s hard to tell without a whole lot of research, but if you take a sampling of the Top 20 companies in the United States (the likes of Apple, Microsoft, AT&T, Home Depot, and Pfizer) you won’t find “Ran a PMO” on their resumes. Rather, these CEOs come through the ranks of engineering, research and development, finance, sales, supply chain, and other business disciplines. Chances are slim you’ll find someone that understands the inner workings of a PMO. 

Yet, the project economy is going to need leaders that understand how PMOs operate, how projects are run, and how they contribute to the strategy of a company. 

How to Develop Future Leaders From the PMO 

If you are an executive and watching the shift from an Operations to a Project economy, you can get a head start on developing PMO leaders to take C-level leadership positions and set your company up for success. How? Find the HIPOs in your PMO.  Remember the list above of how high potential individuals are treated outside of the PMO? Well, start treating the high potential individuals within the PMO the same way. Identify them, come up with a plan, train them, and move them up the ranks in your company to have a seat at the executive table. 

Keep this in mind as you work with high-potential PMO employees. The organizational project delivery journey (moving from operations to projects), involves the entire company. A common mistake executives make is that the changes and improvements necessary to run projects through a company stay inside the PMO. The PMO Leader must interact with and influence peers throughout the entire company to adopt the processes and technology necessary to operate in a project economy. 

This requires speaking their language. The PMO Leader you are tapping on the shoulder to take an executive position needs to understand how projects tie into company strategy. They need to utilize benefits realization management to show how project deliverables link to actual business results. And they need to tie dashboards and KPIs to performance by moving beyond budget, time, and scope and transitioning to revenue growth, cost reduction, and customer satisfaction. 

What economy do you see your company operating in over the next 3 - 5 years? If you see the project economy knocking on your door, take the steps now to identify high potentials in your PMO. Give them the training necessary so they can open the door with confidence and warmly welcome the future! 


How to Develop PMO Leaders 

You can ensure your company is ready for the shift from operations (running a company) to projects (changing a company) by: 

  1. Determining which economy you will operate in - Look at your company and see if you are focused on run and maintain (operations economy) or innovate and change (project economy). If you don’t like the answer, make the decision to change. 
  2. Assessing the background of current leadership - Assess the career ladder and background of those who are sitting at the executive table. Determine if any have a project or PMO background. If you decide to work in the project economy, you’ll need to work on adding someone with that experience.
  3. Looking for HIPOs in your PMO - Identify those individuals who could take on a much larger role in your organization in the coming years. Develop high-potential development plans for them, provide training, connect them with the right people, and give them the feedback they need to succeed. 


  • HIPO - High potential. HIPO refers to an individual within an organization who is identified as having the potential and the capabilities to excel in leadership and management roles in the future. 
  • Operations economy - A method of running an organization that focuses on the running of a company.  
  • Project economy - A method of running an organization that focuses on the changing of a company.  


Nieto-Rodriguez, A. (2021, Nov). The Project Economy Has Arrived. Harvard Business Review, 

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