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Sustainability and Project Management – Perspectives, Challenges and Threats (Part 5)

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Many roles are engaged in reaching sustainability through projects. Foremost, the governance bodies of an organisation need to set the directions. ISO 21505:2017  defines a governing body as “person, group or entity accountable for the governance of an organization, organizations or a part of an organization.” This may be a project steering committee, a body of executive or senior executives, a single executive, or other management oversight bodies, depending on the culture, legal and organisational context. The governance of projects, programmes and portfolios is an integral part of the organization’s overall governance and should thus support the organization’s commitment to sustainability, including but not limited to economic, environmental and social responsibility.

The project sponsor is another role that carries accountabilities for sustainability, defining the project charter and the business case with sustainability in mind as well as supporting the project manager and the team during project execution. In addition, the sponsor should also take care for the outcomes, for the impact and for the strategic benefits from the end of a project or programme until the end of utilizing its deliverables.  Thus, organisations should focus more on the role of project sponsors, otherwise there is a big gap between the strategic intent of an organisation and its operational activities. A project sponsors shall align the strategic ambition of the organisation towards sustainability in clearly defined objectives, guidance and proper decision making for the project, programme or portfolio management and bridge between the temporary parts of the organisation (projects) and the permanent parts (line functions).

The project management office (PMO) or the project management department´s leadership typically defines standards for project, programme and portfolio management. These standards should provide guidance on how to reach sustainability through projects, programmes and portfolios. Training, consulting and coaching could support project managers and other roles in performing their tasks. Internal or external audits could also support the people to follow and continuously improve the standards. An audit could include the suppliers and their deliveries during the execution of a project. In some industries, regulators are performing a part of those audits in order to ensure organisations comply to specific standards (e.g. health and safety audits).

The project manager and the project team define, plan, monitor and control as well as close a project taking sustainability into account. As previously mentioned, their focus is the execution phase of a project, thus they have less influence on the pre- and post-phases of a project. In part 2 of our blogpost series  we described that an “ab initio” view on projects means applying sustainable practices, methods, tools and managing the project itself in a sustainable manner (e.g. saving resources where possible). There are many interactions between the project manager and the various roles involved in a project, e.g. reporting to the Governing Bodies to which extent sustainability has been reached during the project lifecycle, helping to improve the organisation´s overall governance and the management system. The project manager is typically also the main interface to many other stakeholders (e.g. team, suppliers, clients, partners) and thus can support sustainability through cooperation, communication and coordination.

- Author of this post

Reinhard Wagner has been active for more than 30 years in the field of project- related leadership, in such diverse sectors as Air Defence, Automotive Engineering, and Machinery, as well as various not-for-profit organizations. As a Certified Projects Director (IPMA Level A), he has proven experience in managing projects, programmes and project portfolios in complex and dynamic contexts. He is also an IPMA Certified Programme and Portfolio Management Consultant, and as such supports senior executives in developing and improving their organizational competence in managing projects. For more than 15 years, he has been actively involved in the development of project, programme and portfolio management standards, for example as Convenor of the ISO 21500 “Guidance on Project Management” and the ISO 21503 “Guidance on Programme Management”. Reinhard Wagner is President of IPMA, past President and Honorary Fellow of GPM (the German Project Management Association), as well as Managing Director of Tiba Managementberatung GmbH, Germany´s No. 1 PM Full Service Provider.

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