Commentary on “higher purposes” for project management


via partnering to tackle broad

societal / environmental issues



By Alan Stretton, PhD (Hon)

Sydney, Australia


David Pells’ May 2022 editorial “The war changes everything …” (Pells 2022) referred back to the “PM needs a higher purpose” theme of his four-part 2021 editorial (Pells 2021) in which he discussed a very wide range of local, regional and global societal and crises response issues. A key theme of both Pells’ editorials is that project management could, and should, take much more prominent “higher purpose” positions with many of these issues. This commentary focuses on one approach to facilitating this.

In thinking further about “higher purposes” for project management, I remain concerned that some project management writers continue to infer, directly or indirectly, that project management can and should make its own decisions about tackling societal and crises issues. The reality is that it is only very rarely that it can do this. Decisions that initiate actions on societal or crises issues are habitually made by other parties.

Yet, project management can certainly have what Morris 2013 describes as a “value-enhancing role inputting implementation perspectives to policy creation and strategy formulation”. It would therefore appear that one type of “higher purpose” for project management would be to enter into some forms of partnerships with societal-issue initiators or crises responders to engage directly in these decision-making processes.

However, forming such partnerships has proven to be easier said than done. The main impediment appears to be a wide-spread lack of awareness by societal/ crises decision makers of the potential for project management to help them, particularly in the early, and often most critical, stages. Further, this lack of awareness all too often also extends into ongoing implementation stages, as Pells 2021a examples in relation to six highly visible and very major programs/projects undertaken during the pandemic.

Therefore, a primary prerequisite for project management to achieve “higher purpose” partnerships with key societal/crises parties would be to greatly enhance their awareness of the potential for project management to add real value to their initial decision making, and to subsequent actions. This commentary discusses three approaches to enhancing such awareness – which, in turn, would substantially facilitate the development of “higher purpose” partnerships between project management and societal-issue-initiator and/or crises-responder groups/institutions.


I think the PM profession needs a higher purpose. I think the purpose of project management should be to help achieve important projects and programs that serve society, achieve positive changes, contribute to a better future for most people and for the planet. ….                                                                                              (Pells 2021d)

PM is rarely in a position to make its own decisions about society-serving initiatives or initial responses to crises 

Referring to the lead quotation, its implication is that helping achieve projects that serve society, etc., could constitute a “higher purpose” for project management. However, PM rarely has any say in the decision processes that establish just what societal-issue initiatives, or responses to crises, will be undertaken. These initiating decisions are normally made by other parties. Therefore, PM is not normally in a position to make its own decisions on instigating such “higher purpose” initiatives.

How could project management become closely involved in such society-serving decision processes, and thence in decisions about its own “higher purpose” initiatives?

It seems highly doubtful that project management could do this on its own. As Morris 2013:273 says, project and program management “are essentially implementation disciplines”. They simply do not normally include such high-level decision making as integral parts of their scope of practice.  Indeed, to do so would be to extend the scope of project management far beyond its currently perceived boundaries.

However, PM has value-adding partnering potential in society-serving decisions

Morris 2013:273 points to PM’s value-adding potential to help society as follows…


To read entire paper, click here

How to cite this paper: Stretton, A. (2022). Commentary on “higher purposes” for project management, via partnering to tackle broad societal / environmental issues; PM World Journal, Volume XI, Issue VI, June. Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2022/05/pmwj118-Jun2022-Stretton-partnering-to-tackle-societal-environmental-issues-commentary.pdf

 About the Author

Alan Stretton, PhD     

Faculty Corps, University of Management
and Technology, Arlington, VA (USA)
Life Fellow, AIPM (Australia)


Alan Stretton is one of the pioneers of modern project management.  He is currently a member of the Faculty Corps for the University of Management & Technology (UMT), USA.  In 2006 he retired from a position as Adjunct Professor of Project Management in the Faculty of Design, Architecture and Building at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS), Australia, which he joined in 1988 to develop and deliver a Master of Project Management program.   Prior to joining UTS, Mr. Stretton worked in the building and construction industries in Australia, New Zealand and the USA for some 38 years, which included the project management of construction, R&D, introduction of information and control systems, internal management education programs and organizational change projects.  He has degrees in Civil Engineering (BE, Tasmania) and Mathematics (MA, Oxford), and an honorary PhD in strategy, programme and project management (ESC, Lille, France).  Alan was Chairman of the Standards (PMBOK) Committee of the Project Management Institute (PMI®) from late 1989 to early 1992.  He held a similar position with the Australian Institute of Project Management (AIPM), and was elected a Life Fellow of AIPM in 1996.  He was a member of the Core Working Group in the development of the Australian National Competency Standards for Project Management.  He has published over 240 professional articles and papers.  Alan can be contacted at alanailene@bigpond.com.au

To see more works by Alan Stretton, visit his author showcase in the PM World Library at http://pmworldlibrary.net/authors/alan-stretton/