The Strategic Initiative Leader: The #1 Success Factor!

A CEO, determined to succeed with a strategic initiative, asked me to identify the #1 success factor. I thought for a moment and told him,

The #1 most-important action is recruiting a capable person to own and direct the strategic initiative.

This capable person is a source of leverage. S/he can:

  • Shape and influence the vision and strategy, including capturing emergent opportunities that were not originally identified
  • Identify and manage interfaces with other strategic initiatives and with ongoing operations (including non-strategic initiatives)
  • Attract and negotiate for other resources, including information, people, capital, facilities, etc.
  • Build and lead the implementation team
  • Inspire people to step outside of their comfort zone and accomplish stretch goals
  • Establish governance to assure that benefits are delivered early and incrementally to stakeholders
  • Establish metrics and reinforce a culture of accountability

The Capable Program Manager: Competencies & Characteristics

I have drawn upon research from academics (Owen Gaddekin, Richard Leifer and his associates) as well as my personal observations to develop this description of a capable program manager for a strategic initiative.  Stated simply,

Program Managers have strengths in strategic thinking (in addition to critical thinking) matched by use of leadership skills, determination and commitment to a vision.

Programs are not simply big projects, and program managers have competencies different from project managers. They,

  1. Have a long-term and big-picture perspective
  2. Are systematic and innovative thinkers. They tolerate ambiguity in the problem discovery and concept development phases.
  3. They have a mindset of abundance (rather than a mindset of scarcity). They scrounge for, find, and empower the best people. They build teams that are characterized by open and fluid cultures.
  4. Focus heavily on external stakeholders.  They continually promote the potential benefits of the program.
  5. Thrive on relationships and influence
  6. Are strongly committed to the mission and delivering results. They develop robust strategies with alternative solutions.
  7. Are selectively involved in project issues.  They exercise judgment to recognize profound problems versus the mundane.
  8. Proactively gather information and insist on results. They ask many questions and listen.
  9. Are opportunistic, looking for quick wins rather than dogmatic compliance with protocols.

  Do you agree with my list of characteristics and competencies?


About Greg Githens

Author, How to Think Strategically (2019) Executive and leadership coach. Experience in driving change in Fortune 500 and mid-size companies through strategic initiatives and business transformation. Seminar leader and facilitator - high-impact results in crafting and delivering strategy, strategic initiatives, program management, innovation, project management, risk, and capturing customer requirements.
This entry was posted in Competencies of Strategic Initiative Leaders, Strategy Coaching and Facilitation, Success Principles for Strategic Initiatives and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to The Strategic Initiative Leader: The #1 Success Factor!

  1. J Tucker says:

    Greg, I agree wholeheartedlay and not just because I am a Program Manager 😉 I have worked on several initiatives with Steering Committees and could seldom get the committee focused on the top one or two things because they all had differing agendas and priorities. Having a PM focus on an initiative as a top priority adds all that you mention above as well as helps create a true team with strong relationships, good communication, and one that will show defined progress. Hope things are going well — keep up the good work!

  2. Pingback: The Four Driving Questions for Success | Leading Strategic Initiatives

  3. Pingback: Vision into Results….Introducing Leading Strategic Initiatives | Leading Strategic Initiatives

  4. Pingback: The Job of the Program Manager is to….. | Leading Strategic Initiatives

  5. Pingback: A Concise Guide to the Differences between Programs and Projects | Leading Strategic Initiatives

  6. Jeff Panning says:


    I’m so glad that I clicked on your link to this blog from within LinkedIn today. I’ve been looking for someone with a better explanation of the differences between project and program management, since taking on a new role in January 2012. This is the first explanation that I have found that goes beyond “managing a group of projects…” and puts more focus on relationships, benefits and strategy. When I found your statement “Programs are not simply big projects, and program managers have competencies different from project managers” I actually said “YES, finally I found the explanation that goes beyond the rest”.

    I look forward to reading more of your articles and integrating the concepts into further developing my role.

    Jeff Panning
    Service Delivery Manager/Program Manager
    Manufacturing Technology Center of Excellence
    Owens Corning

  7. Pingback: Seven Must-Do’s for Better Strategy Execution | Leading Strategic Initiatives

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s