Interview with Uruel Wernars conducted by Kornelia Trzęsowska

Inspiring others has recently been recognized as one of the most important interpersonal skills of project managers and, broadly, leaders. Why inspiring is so crucial in contemporary project management? 

In my view it is important to realize that to be successful in these challenging times it is not only about the tools and technical knowledge but more importantly the personality and soft skills or capabilities of our people. Focusing on developing that area will help you to really engage your teams, building-up strong relationship with your stakeholders, overcome challenges and be great. Move from project managers towards great project leaders.

How to inspire others?

It all starts by leading by example! Be inspired by yourself to grow. If you are not inspired, how can you inspire others? Show a real interest in others and understand that people are your main value. Encourage them to come up with new ideas, work with them on their growth opportunities, make them part of shaping a team together and co-create an organizational future.

Is inspiring others anyhow different than motivating them?

Yes, they are different. Both of them are important and can work really well with each other. With the motivation you can stimulate someone to achieve a certain goal while with the inspiration you will be able to influence people mentally and emotionally to do something creative. Motivation drives behavior that is driven by external rewards. Inspiration drives behavior that is driven by the fun, challenge, or satisfaction involved with an activity, not for an outside outcome, pressure, or reward.

Can you tell us a bit about a leader who inspired you most? What was special about this person?

I am not really someone that is inspired by many specific leaders; however, one person that really inspired not only myself but many others was/is Obama. In a very hectic political environment, he really showed leadership, courage and vision. As a leader he shows an interest in people, he cares about them and, what is very important, he is very good in storytelling to bring his vision to life.

In many cases, leaders need to inspire teams to feel a common organizational goal. How to help teams to bring value to the organization?

What I experience is that when you make them part of your vision by engaging them in conversations and encouraging them to come up with ideas and suggestions, it gives them a meaning and a purpose. They will start to own and share your vision if they are inspired and be advocates for others to follow this. It gives a common goal and drives all to achieve the most value.

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How does the process of building a strategy look like for you? How does it start and goes further?

In building a strategy the key is to understand the WHY (do we need it), (for) WHO (are we doing this) WHAT (do we want to achieve) with the HOW (do we want to bring this to life) to get this across to our people that need to bring a vision to a next level.

Too often we make assumptions and choose a direction that feels right for us without thinking about the needs of others. When we have identified the right mission, goals and vision, it is important to use storytelling and facilitation skills to bring this forward into your organization. Active listening to your colleagues, encourage them to be part of the conversation, empower them and lead them along the way. Don’t be afraid to change your course and be agile where needed, as it is essential that we learn during the journey.

How will leadership change in the near future? Will the current global political and economic situation influence it?

From my perspective, we need to be aware that people are not directly intending to be ‘bounded’ to one company, as it was more in the past. The new generation really wants to be meaningful and part of a change… They want to have a purpose besides only having a good salary. With new generations of young talent, we need to realize that they are expecting a different way of interacting with them. Instead of focusing on ‘transactional’ leadership where there was a focus on contingent rewards and clear goals, we need to move towards ‘transformational’ leadership where we drive value through motivating, inspiration and influencing.

Could you identify the key competencies of the future that will distinguish good project managers?

For me, a great project manager is someone who has a clear and inspiring goal and is very good in storytelling has great facilitation skills and is able to build up long-term relationships and acts as a servant leader.

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You are the leader of Project Management Office in Cargill. What do you perceive as the most significant in the PMO world?

We need to act to lead in today’s dynamic business environments. As a project manager, drive innovation and inspire new ways of thinking such as agile and working, harnessing a team’s creativity to respond or act to change. Be an advocate of a product model approach where we work together with stakeholders on a portfolio of products that drives value. Keep improving and working on our personal behaviors and capabilities.

How is PMO organized in Cargill?

We ask ourselves which optimum talent mix we require (from employees and contractors) to be successful. Combining a location strategy where we have a focus on customer proximity versus cost advantage locations where we have opportunities to invest in new capabilities and future talent. Addressing maturity gaps and creating room for growth within our internal people but also actively bringing talented contractors into our own organization. We want to equip ourselves with the right bench of potential successions on roles and increasing demand. As leaders, we want to give the right attention to our people on their development, growth, workload and personality.

Creating an environment where openness, transparency, diversity, inclusiveness, sharing and feeling part of a team is very important.

How can PMO help in the development of interpersonal skills, for example inspiring others?

I see the PMO as an important player in the organization to guide and drive delivery and enable value. In this role we have an opportunity to share our vision of how we want to drive value with our teams, stakeholders and organization. We should show servant/transformational leadership in the way that we are all working together. Break down silos and inspire others around us.

Could you tell us about a recent project in your organization that was really successful? What helped you to achieve success?

Starting with the creation of the right mindset with the stakeholders and teams taking them step by step along in an agile journey where we were combining the agility practices with a product model vision, we were able to bring an idea from our business into reality. Acting as ONE both the IT organization and Product Owner were able to share the right value drivers with leadership to get their long-term commitment for the investment. Now, 3 years later, the team developed a digital product with a combination of a mobile app and a front/backend that is used in different regions by external customers and actually provides revenue that justifies the continuation of further development of new features and capabilities. The team and product owner have all grown in maturity and can be seen now as a self-driving team.