The Levelling Up agenda will be one of the biggest tests for project management in a generation. The taxpayer has been scarred by broken promises – HS2, to name one high-profile example – and tolerance for threadbare excuses has reached the end of the road. The government must get this one right.
The standard of project management will be the battlefield upon which the Levelling Up agenda is won and lost. Faced with running multiple initiatives simultaneously across the UK, project leadership must be watertight to avoid the swamp of timeline, financial and strategic issues that drowned past failures.
Each Levelling Up initiative will be unique – with varying budgets, risks, and timelines – but its legacy will be judged against the same criteria: how it affects local people. Transparency is non-negotiable. Project managers must engage in regular, honest conversation with those that will most be impacted by the end result. They are responsible for demonstrating the integrity that can get communities pulling in the same direction.
This calibre of leadership can be hard to find, especially in the midst of the project skills crisis currently faced by the UK. The changes wrought by the pandemic call for a significant strengthening – or modernisation – of the traditional project skillset, and there is now a significant deficit between those responsible for managing projects and those that have been suitably trained to do so.
The government’s plans must, therefore, include investment into a skills refresh. The project managers leading these initiatives have taxpayer money in their hands and will be responsible for turning promises into results. If they are expected to rely on a limited or out-dated set of project management skills, the Levelling Up agenda could be over before it has begun.
Ashwini Bakshi is Managing Director of Europe and Sub-Saharan Africa at Project Management Institute.