No Image Available

Spencer Holmes


Managing Director and Training Consultant

Read more from Spencer Holmes

googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display(‘div-gpt-ad-1705321608055-0’); });

The seven facets of leadership pt1: Pragmatism


In part 1 of a series, Spencer Holmes describes a new approach to the development of project managers to meet the current challenges of organisations in all sectors. This week: pragmatism.

This is the first of a series of articles that will cover the seven facets of project leadership, as defined by Dr Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic and the research team drawn from industry leading project professionals and Goldsmith’s College, London. 

Our psychometric describes the pragmatic facet as: '...referring to the extent to which the individual is goal-oriented, focussed, and determined to accomplish tasks. Pragmatic individuals tend to be motivated by success (extrinsically rather than intrinsically) and are conscientious, organised and methodical'
Simply put, the pragmatist wants to see that an idea or proposition works satisfactorily. We have found that many project managers score highly in this facet and on face value this should not be a surprise. We should be focused on putting energy into activity that bears real results, the clock is always ticking on a project and people and money are usually rare as hen's teeth.
So, what does this mean in practice? Well, as I mentioned in the previous piece, our attempts to improve projects through training have been heavily focused up to now on methodology.
"The first step for an individual in developing a more pragmatic approach may well be thinking through how they will influence those above them to assist in the changes that need to be made."
It may appear that these are the ultimate expression of pragmatism in a project manager's skill set. After all, what could be more pragmatic than plans, diagrams, charts, numbers, equations that predict the future, formulae to explain the past, processes to encourage conformity, frameworks to control the madness? However, we all know that there are plenty of project managers out there, having received this battery of tools, that still fail to achieve the tangible outputs that define a project's efficacy.
Can we look at a definition then, of pragmatism, that goes beyond the apparent science of what we teach in project classrooms? The true pragmatist wouldn't only suggest we should, they would insist that it was done and done today. Why is this? Because the overall results we are seeing (project performance) do not seem to substantiate the proposition that traditional training is the most useful.

Pragmatists prioritise results over process

At this point however, a word of warning. There is a real danger that supposedly pragmatic practitioners are those who "call a spade a spade" etc and, instead of spending hours in training, or indeed any "important but non-urgent" activity, we should simply be "getting on with it".
We have worked with a number of large organisations where this is the prevalent cultural message. Time is money and we're not paid to sit around hypothesising. Sometimes the objection is raised that "this way worked in the past so why change it?". We know however, that the reality at project level is usually that fundamental parts of the 'old way' simply didn't work or at least could have been significantly improved with some clear thinking time. The old adage "measure twice cut once" springs to mind.
Just 'getting on with it' is not pragmatism. We find this philosophy leads to a lack of:
  • Proper planning, consultation and stakeholder communication
  • Learning from our mistakes
  • Sharing ideas across the team / department / business
  • Eliciting new ideas from non-typical sources
  • Scrutinising the old way and being honest about failings
  • Encouraging measured risk taking and innovation
  • Ensuring continuous improvements in quality
I suspect we would stray into stating the blatantly obvious if we tried to explain how improving all the above could radically transform project effectiveness.

What can be done to build a pragmatic facet?

First, the individual has to consider their wider context. Organisations can often be their own worst enemy when it comes to true pragmatism. Sometimes newly trained project managers return to the fray with renewed vigour to improve project performance. They find however that key allies are not thus inclined. Time is not given for thinking through problems, support not forthcoming for making real changes. It does not take long for the lone crusader to get back in their box.
As with all the facets described, making lasting change will require a potent combination of individual resilience and organisational back up. The first step for an individual in developing a more pragmatic approach may well be thinking through how they will influence those above them to assist in the changes that need to be made. Remember, all you are trying to do is strengthen the business case of all projects, cases that are, ultimately, owned by your senior team.
Some project managers who lack adequate pragmatism tend to be intrinsically motivated which can result in getting stuck on a certain issue at the expense of overall progress. Your instinctive motivation may be hard to change but here are a few practical coping strategies that should help.
  • Avoid being constrained by the methodology you have been taught to defend with your life. Increasing your ability to step back and consider the bigger picture can help you make expedient decisions and reduce time wasting activity. Does that next meeting need to happen with all those invited? Is a full gate review required? Avoid getting stuck into details at the expense of the bigger picture.
  • On the right sorts of projects, make sure you have a robustly developed critical path. This keeps focus on the right things and simultaneously helps you spot time-wasting activities.
  • Develop your ability to delegate effectively (think through the "who, what, where, when, why and how" and how you will monitor and support the delegated party). Sharing the workload better enables you to keep your eye on what's really important on the project.
  • Use and build your network consistently, get a good mentor. Pragmatism could be translated as 'wisdom' and those who have found ways of getting things done faster may have simply been around longer and taken a few more knocks. Others can often get a job done better and identify further sources of support and influence that help you get the right things done right.
  • Record and test assumptions (e.g. "everyone knows what is going on!"). In the fast-track world of projects assumptions often morph into 'facts' (however spurious) without a simple process for capturing them and checking them out. 
  • Keep tangible evidence of success and slippage so lessons can be observed and shared quickly. Be ready to admit your own mistakes and so encourage others to do the same. We have seen this save thousands if not millions for example in the management of suppliers and contractors across a global firm. 
  • Manage your working environment to minimise distractions and interruptions. Designate a tranquil place for clear thinking and use it frequently.
Pragmatists live on evidence and always know what's important.

Spencer Holmes is the managing director of Global Project Leaders Ltd. He runs projects, trains and consults globally on the subject. His passion is for helping project managers develop the resilience required to thrive in an increasingly pressurised world. His company can be found at

No Image Available
Spencer Holmes

Managing Director and Training Consultant

Read more from Spencer Holmes

Get the latest from TrainingZone.

Elevate your L&D expertise by subscribing to TrainingZone’s newsletter! Get curated insights, premium reports, and event updates from industry leaders.


Thank you!