Ricardo Viana Vargas, PMI-RMP, PMI-SP, PMP, a past
PMI chair, is the director of the Sustainable Project
Management Group at the United Nations Office
for Project Services in Copenhagen, Denmark.
LEADING (AND LEARNING)
IN THE FIELD
to build the trust you need to bring it home.
So don’t waste time: Be committed!
A couple of years ago, I was working in
sub-Saharan Africa. ;e project was very
complex and challenging, and our team
there was very small. Plus, we had no
o;ce space to work in. I couldn’t sleep out
of fear of failure.
One night, I decided I would create an o;ce
for the team inside my bedroom. I called my colleagues to bring in their chairs and desks. I wrote
some inspirational quotes on a ;ip chart for all to
see. Everybody was so motivated by the new o;ce
and the quotes that during the next eight days we
worked around-the-clock, sleeping two to three
hours a day to get the job done. We delivered the
project one day before the deadline. On the last
day, the o;ce became a party room as we celebrated the success of the mission.
;ese types of challenging project environments
have given me the opportunity to grow as a leader.
skills of lasting value are
learned not in books or
classes but in the ultimate
classroom: the real world.
;ree years ago, I packed
my suitcases and moved
from Brazil to Denmark to
lead the Sustainable Project
Management Group at the
UNOPS. Why? Commitment. I believed my experience in capital projects
could bene;t humanitarian
projects by making sure
business knowledge from
for-pro;t environments helps a di;erent group of
clients: people in need. ;is remains my reason for
waking up every morning with the energy to lead
a team. PM
Every day at the United Nations Office for Project
Services (UNOPS), I need to get things done while
working with diverse partners, suppliers, governmental agencies, local communities and NGOs. In
this environment, a project manager has to be politically savvy and able to in;uence and negotiate with
all stakeholders. All this requires leadership skills.
Some say leadership is an innate characteristic
while others argue it’s an acquirable skill. Wherever you stand on that point, it’s inarguable that
leadership skills can be improved. But how can
project managers do this?
Google “leadership” or “How to become a leader
in 5 minutes” and you’ll ;nd all types of resources
that could provide guidance, from Harvard seminars to online courses and blogs. ;e question
is, can leadership skills really be attained through
books or two-day seminars?
I love reading leadership books because they
inspire me. I’m also a big fan of developing myself
through training courses. But let’s face it, when
working in fast-paced and challenging environments, knowledge gleaned from how-to books or
seminars might not be easy to apply.
In my experience delivering projects in some
of the most remote areas of the planet, the best
way to ensure team performance and create future
leaders is to lead by example, to inspire and motivate team members to deliver.
Before engaging your team and stakeholders in
project particulars, you need to form a vision of
the project and get buy-in. Once you ;nd inspiration, communicate the vision e;ectively. Your team
will likely follow suit, and you won’t need to search
through your toolbox of management tips and
tricks to get them on board.
If you don’t believe in the project and fake your
enthusiasm and commitment, you will not be able
The best place to strengthen
leadership skills is in the real world.
BY RICARDO VIANA VARGAS, PMI;RMP, PMI;SP, PMP