Susanne Madsen: Project Management Leadership Coach, Mentor and Author

susanne madsen

It is a given that project managers are good with details, in handling events, tasks, and processes. However, many take for granted the other aspects like communication, decision-making, and leadership.

Introducing Susanne Madsen

Susanne Madsen is a project management leadership coach and the author of The Project Management Coaching Workbook – Six Steps to Unleashing Your Potential. She has over 15 years experience in managing and rolling out large change programmes of up to $30 million for organizations such as Standard Bank, Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase. Susanne specializes in helping project and change managers improve their leadership skills so that they can gain control of their projects and fast-track their career. She does this through a combination of training, coaching, mentoring and consulting.

Before Susanne got involved in coaching, she was managing big-profile projects. However, there came a time when managing projects was consuming all her time and taking over her life. She realized then how the wrong approach to handling projects can be detrimental to one’s health and happiness. Susanne also discovered the value of coaching, how it helped her, and how it can help so many project managers in a similar situation.

Coaching People to Work Smarter

Coaching is primarily focused on developing a project manager’s leadership qualities. Susanne Madsen is a fully qualified Corporate and Executive coach who helps project and change managers successfully face challenging projects without them getting run over by the job. By coaching individuals how to work smarter rather than just harder, she is able to help not only the individual, but their organization as well, to achieve the desired goal.

Helping Clients Get Where They Want To Go

As a coach, Susanne asks her clients specific questions – what is the current situation, where do you want to go, what are the challenges that keep you from moving – the hard questions that matter. She helps people identify, for starters, their strengths and weaknesses, and helps articulate pressing issues. Susanne then puts together an action plan that helps the project manager focus on aspects that get the best results, free up valuable time, and be more effective not only as a manager but as a leader.

Through a combination of roles, Susanne Madsen develops project managers to focus on the important 20 percent of activities that contribute to the 80 percent of the desired results. Rather than analyzing and justifying why things are what they are, as a believer of Get Things Done philosophy, she recommends that clients acknowledge the situation and then helps them discover how to move forward. She explains to clients that by prioritizing properly and focusing on the more important, they will feel instantly more energized, engaged, and fulfilled in their job. Susanne clarified, however, that the drive and willingness to achieve this change needs to come from the individual.

Q&A with Susanne Madsen (P-M): “Like most craft, project management skills are developed over time. How does having good soft skills such as good communication skills help a junior project manager become a more dependable project resource quickly?”

Susanne Madsen (SM): “Soft skills are invaluable to project managers who want to progress, because they are the very skills which help us build strong relationships with our customers and creating a highly motivated team – factors that are crucial to success. A project manager who only masters the hard skills, such as planning, tracking, risk management and quality assurance, is not leveraging the human resources of the project. This can lead to conflict, a de-motivated team, poor deliverables and unhappy customers who are not being appropriately communicated to or involved in decisions that affect them. It is through soft skills such as communication, negotiation, enquiring, listening, self management, leadership and motivation that we build dependable relationships that help us, not only to understand our clients’ true needs, but also to deliver these needs with a driven and motivated team. The sooner junior PMs understand that there is more to project management than sitting behind their desk estimating, planning and tracking work, the better.”

P-M: “Soft skills are just as important as hard skills in project management. But why are they more difficult to learn than hard skills?”

SM: “Interesting question! A valid answer could be that soft skills are harder to teach – and therefore learn – because they’re concerned with deeply routed behaviors that are individual to each person. But actually, I’m not sure that soft skills are in fact harder to learn. It may just be that people don’t master soft skills as well as hard skills because culturally we tend to put more emphasis on hard skills. Look at what we teach our kids in school for instance. Most of it is knowledge-based and very factual. How many classes are there on asking questions, listening and reading body language? Our society is valuing hard skills over soft skills and that’s what people are conditioned to. I do see a shift starting to take place though. When we interview candidates for new roles, we are increasingly assessing and observing their interpersonal skills along with more factual and rational capabilities. But it’s still a minority of institutions that hire only based on great interpersonal skills.”

P-M: “Project managers are some of the people who are greatly overworked and get the most stress from their jobs, even though they like what they do. What kind of help or resource, aside from a certification, is now available to them so they can continue doing what they do and do it well?”

SM: “A good way for project managers to continue to develop and remain resilient is to tap into all the Continuing Professional Development (CPD) resources available on the market outside of the project management profession. In particular this could be leadership books, leadership courses and specific training in the area of negotiation, personal impact, time management and stress management. But these courses are rarely tailored to project managers.

Another good option – and a very powerful one – is to work with a qualified coach on a one-to-one basis. The coach will help the individual to better cope, stay in control of their project and address specific areas of concern such as missed deadlines, a disengaged team, unhappy stakeholders, a feeling of overwhelm or a lack of personal satisfaction and achievement. Coaching can also help in identifying the project manager’s medium to long term aspirations, put together a plan of action and take steps that move them closer to their goals. Examples of such goals that relate to soft skills could be: building better personal relationships, being better at leading and motivating the team, improving assertiveness and gravitas or finding more joy and satisfaction in their work. A nice side benefit is that no matter what people set out to work on, increased confidence is almost always an implicit benefit of one-to-one coaching.” is thankful to Susanne Madsen for giving us the opportunity to get some insights on how to become a more effective project leader.

Getting in Touch

Susanne Madsen’s website has a contact page for anyone interested to have her as a project management leadership coach, trainer, or mentor. She can also be invited to deliver her signature talk about leadership and its relation to project management. Her book The Project Management Workbook – Six Steps to Unleashing Your Potential is a valuable part of her coaching sessions, where the six steps of how project managers can improve their performance, skills, and well-being are explained in detail.

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