In the first of their series on Responsible Project Management, Karen Thompson and Nigel Williams begin with an introduction to the topic and the work they have been doing with professional project practitioners and academics over the past year. This series of blogs draws on material that was presented and discussed at an ESRC Festival of Social Science event supported by APM in London on 8th November 2018, and at seminars for the UK Chapter PMI at Bournemouth on 9th January 2019 and in London on 23rd May 2019.
Sustainable Development, ‘Extinction Rebellion’ and global warming have all been in the media a good deal recently. Against this backdrop, we have been working with researchers, practitioners and students of project management to develop ideas about what it might mean to “act responsibly” in the social and physical contexts in which projects are delivered. The outcome has been sign-up by a range of large organisations and universities to the “Manifesto for Responsible Project Management” on 3rd July 2019.
In a series of four blogs, including this one, we will unpack the work that led to the signing of the Manifesto.
First, we will introduce the drivers for the work and explain why projects need to be managed responsibly.
In 2017, the APM published “Climate Change and What the Project Management Profession should be doing about it: A UK perspective” by renowned project management author, Peter W.G. Morris, from University College London. Projects drive change across the globe and project management is the heart of projects. Projects can consume resources on a vast scale, frequently depleting natural reserves, generating waste and causing environmental damage. In addition to environmental impacts, Projects can disrupt communities, exacerbating social tensions. So Peter’s call for action does not seem unreasonable. We will discuss other initiatives that have been taken later in this series; for now it is sufficient to note that the responses to Peter’s call for action have been limited.
The challenge facing project management is not just about climate change. In 2015 the United Nations identified 17 Sustainable Development Goals that have been adopted by all member states. Even more recently, the UK government has announced the Net Zero initiative that is aimed at eliminating the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The scale of physical and social transformation implied in this target will require the equivalent of a megaproject to be completed every year for the next 20 years. While some project based organisations are now mapping their work against the SDGs, the project management profession has yet to fully engage.
Calls for project management to respond have been growing and are brought into sharp focus by the awarding of a Royal Charter to the APM and the development of ideas around what professionalisation might mean. Professionalisation of project management confers upon project managers wider responsibilities than just the delivery of pre-defined project objectives. Being professional implies a responsibility to society and, we argue, to the environment. Put simply, to be responsible means ‘to understand the impacts and consequences of actions and deeds’1. Therefore, managing projects responsibly requires Project Professionals to pay attention to the impacts and consequences of projects upon people, planet and prosperity, and is long overdue.
In our next blog we will explain what Responsible Project Management is and how it differs from other initiatives to put ‘sustainability’ into project management.
1 Andrew Edkins, Director, The Bartlett Real Estate Institute, UCL in a Foreword to ‘A Guide to Responsible Project Management’ published by Bournemouth University.
Join Karen and Nigel for a 60 minute ZOOM Live session to explore the Responsible Project Management Manifesto between 12.30 and 13.30 BST on Tuesday 23rd July.
Dr. Karen Thomson is a Senior Lecturer in Leadership, Strategy, and Organizations and Dr. Nigel L. Williams is a Senior Lecturer in Project Management, both at Bournemouth University. Together they are two of the leading forces behind the University’s Responsible Project Management concept.
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