Cultivating a Risk-Smart Attitude


Tips and Techniques to Help You

Lead Through Uncertainty



By Laszlo A. Retfalvi P.Eng. PMP PMI-RMP

New Brunswick, Canada


Management of medium to large complex procurement and integration projects is a difficult challenge. All projects, no matter of development approach, face the difficult proposition of how to execute efficiently while maintaining the required focus on value delivery and potential effects of uncertainty.

The ability to effectively lead a project team and organization through uncertainty significantly improves the chances of successful project execution and organizational success. Project Managers, especially those new to the position, often feel ill-equipped or overwhelmed when dealing with uncertainty. They do not understand the linkage between uncertainty, risk, and attitude. We need to correct this.

As reported by PMI®’s PMI (2021) Pulse of the Profession 2021 – Beyond Agility 35 percent of traditional enterprises experienced failed projects in the past 12 months. Further, only 64 percent of traditional enterprises use standardized risk management processes. Investment waste was 10.5 percent, or $105 million dollars for every $ 1 billion dollars spent. These numbers are staggering. As the report states – there is room to grow and improve. I could not agree more.

Experience has shown that the lack of understanding of uncertainty and risk management principles results in projects failing to meet their goals. To avoid this, it is critical that the Project Manager be able to understand what the key project uncertainty and risk areas are and always be in a position to communicate these effectively to stakeholders. Failure to do so may expose the project to unnecessary delays, missed opportunities, negative financial impacts, and potential damage to the organization’s reputation. We need to avoid this.


PMI®’s Project Management Book of Knowledge Seventh Edition, 2021, Project Management Institute, Newtown Square, PA defines uncertainty as “a lack of understanding of issues, events, paths to follow, or solutions to pursue”. The importance of uncertainty has been elevated in the PMBOK® by the establishment of an uncertainty performance domain focused on activities and functions associated with uncertainty and risk. This is welcome.

An alternate definition is that uncertainty refers to the lack of complete certainty. The outcome of an uncertain event is unknown. It does not have an assigned probability as a traditional risk nor it is an unknown risk.

Something is uncertain if we don’t know what could happen or we don’t know the odds of what will happen. Uncertainties are open-ended with many potential outcomes. In contrast, risks have a narrower range of outcomes with probabilities that may be estimated. We can manage and insure against risks but not uncertainties.

Uncertainty in a project environment may be broken down into components. Refer to Figure 1.

Figure 1: Project Uncertainty Components

The following component definitions assist in the understanding of Figure 1:


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How to cite this article: Retfalvi, L.A. (2024).  Cultivating a Risk-Smart Attitude: Tips and Techniques to Help You Lead Through Uncertainty, PM World Journal, Vol. XIII, Issue II, February.  Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2024/02/pmwj138-Feb2024-Retfalvi-cultivating-a-risk-smart-attitude.pdf

About the Author

Laszlo A. Retfalvi P.Eng. PMP PMI-RMP

Retfalvi and Associates
New Brunswick, Canada


Laszlo Retfalvi is former Director of Enterprise Excellence and member of the Senior Leadership Team (SLT) at Lockheed Martin Canada, a division of Lockheed Martin Rotary Mission Systems (RMS). Laszlo’s role focused on strategic program and risk transformation to drive excellence through the organization.

Previous roles include Vice-President of the Program and Risk Management Office (PRMO) at Allen Vanguard Corporation, Director of the Program Management Center of Excellence at Shared Services Canada, and Director of Integrated Sensor Systems at General Dynamics Canada. Previously, Laszlo held roles with the Irving Corporation and SED Systems.

A seasoned 35+ year veteran of engineering, project management and business in private and public sectors, Laszlo and his teams have successfully managed and delivered products, systems, and services to Military, Para-Military, Public, Government, and Private Customers.  Areas of expertise include independent reviews, risk workshops, schedule and cost risk analysis.

Laszlo is an award-winning instructor, author, and coach. With a passion to help individuals succeed, Laszlo is currently an Instructor at University of California Irvine Extension. Laszlo is also an Instructor at Oregon State University Professional and Continuing Education. Areas include Project Planning, Risk Management, Leadership and High-Performance Teams.

Laszlo is author of The Power of Project Management Leadership: Your Guide on How to Achieve Outstanding Results (CS Publishing March 2014) including the Project Management Leadership Model©, a framework to develop personal project management leadership excellence. A recognized industry speaker, Laszlo has published and delivered over 80 papers and presentations internationally, including PMI® ProjectManagement.com Risk and Leadership Community of Practice Premium on Demand webinars.

Laszlo has been happily married to Lisa for over 35 years and they have two wonderful sons, Andrew and Alexander.

Laszlo may be reached at laszlo@retfalviandassociates.com or on LinkedIn.