Who sits above the project leader?
It might sound like an odd question. The leader is, by definition, top of the tree. However, for most, if not all project leaders, there will be some-one or some-thing above them. In many projects there will be a governance group, it may be called the project board. An effective board will have terms of reference that provide challenge to the project team and assurance to the organisation, but above all, it will focus on supporting the project team to deliver successfully.
The membership of the governance group should be only as big as it has to be – avoid a cast of thousands as meetings will become inefficient. Group members should be capable of balancing their individual responsibilities with those of the group. When a project is designed to bring benefits at an organisational level, governance group members will often have to prioritise the project (and therefore the organisation), over their departmental or individual positions.
The relationship between the project leader and the governance group is an important one that demands time and energy to establish and maintain. The project leader should develop both formal and informal channels of communication with the group chair. Our experience shows that a culture of no-surprises is an effective approach – particularly where bad news is involved. The project leader should be able to bring urgent information to the governance group chair at any time, without waiting for the next formal meeting or reporting cycle.
So when you are next asked to lead a project, work hard to ensure that what sits above you provides both challenge and support; it will pay dividends.