The change management practitioner has a variety of roles when applying change management on a project or initiative


While much of a change management practitioner’s job revolves around applying a methodology, the change management resource or team also has a significant role as an enabler of the other roles in change management. Here are tips for working through others to make change management and the project more successful.

Importance of Being an Enabler

As the main person or team responsible for applying a change management methodology, a change manager conducts readiness assessments, segments impacted audiences, crafts the change management strategy and builds the customized change management plans that are needed to support the unique change and the specific groups being impacted by the change.

However, while the change management practitioner often creates the key plans of change management, they rarely execute those plans. If the communications plan calls for a town hall meeting kick-off, a senior leader will be the one in front of the room. If the coaching plan calls for one-on-one conversations about objections to the change, middle managers and supervisors will hold those meetings. The change management practitioner is much more like the director of a play, developing plans and enabling the actors to be effective. For changes to be successful and deliver the intended results and outcomes, the change management practitioner must work through these other roles in change management:

  • Executives and senior leaders
  • Middle managers and supervisors
  • Project team
  • Project support functions

Executives and Senior Leaders 

In times of change, executives and senior leaders fulfill the role of sponsor. Prosci's benchmarking research indicates that the active and visible involvement by senior leaders is the greatest contributor to overall project success.

What They Need to Do

Three primary responsibilities of executives and senior leaders in times of change:

  1. Actively and visibly participate throughout the project
  2. Support of a coalition of sponsorship and manage resistance with their peers
  3. Communicate directly with employees

How to Support Them

  • Make a compelling case for the value of change management and why their role as sponsor is essential for project success
  • Set the expectation that their involvement must be active and visible and must extend through the duration of the project
  • Give concrete examples of the specific actions they need to take
  • Make it as easy as possible for them to be great sponsors by doing the legwork (e.g., create talking points, write the text of the email, get them on calendars, craft presentations)
  • Show them the impact of their work and recognize their efforts

Middle Managers and Supervisors

In times of change, middle managers and supervisors are the closest to the employees who must adopt and utilize the solution resulting from a project or initiative. This group is a key ally during change and enables the leveraging of change management activities for large-scale change.

What They Need to Do

Research has revealed five primary roles for managers and supervisors in times of change:

  1. Communicator
  2. Advocate
  3. Coach
  4. Liaison
  5. Resistance manager

How to Support Them

  • Build an understanding of change, the individual as the unit of change and the role of change management on projects and initiatives
  • Show them the importance of their role
  • Allow them the opportunity to voice their concerns and objections so they become supportive of the change
  • Provide accurate and timely information on the project or initiative so they can communicate with their direct reports (e.g. talking points, FAQ documents)
  • Provide change management training on the roles, processes and tools for managers and supervisors
  • Provide the tools they need to support their employee’s transitions

Project Team

The project team is tasked with designing, developing and deploying a technical solution through a project or initiative. They primarily manage the activities and resources required to install a solution, but they also play a key role in change management.  

What They Need to Do

In support of the installation of a change, project teams fulfill the following roles:

  1. Design the actual change
  2. Manage the technical side of the project
  3. Engage with change management team/resource
  4. Integrate change management plans into project plans  

How to Support Them

  • Show the connection between the people side of change and the value the project ultimately delivers to the organization
  • Demonstrate the consequences of ignoring or mismanaging the people side of change
  • Provide a high-level overview of the change management processes and the tools used by change management practitioners
  • Create deliverables that can be easily integrated into and sequenced with the project plan
  • Identify change management milestones that run in conjunction with the project milestones

Project Support Functions

Project support functions provide specific experience and expertise to support a particular facet of change. Change management can provide an overarching framework and individual orientation to enhance the efficacy of these support functions.  

What They Need to Do                                             

Project support functions provide the following:

  1. Experience and expertise
  2. Knowledge
  3. Tools

How to Support Them

  • Show how the tools and knowledge they bring fit into a larger plan for enabling and encouraging individual transitions through change management
  • Provide context for how their area of expertise works with and alongside a structured change management approach
  • Create a partnership by connecting each of the work streams to the intended results and outcomes of the project or initiative

Working through others is a challenge, but it is critically important for change management practitioners. While they are often the developer of change management plans, it is the managers, supervisors, senior leaders and executives who must be the face and voice of change and execute on those change management plans. This role of enabler is an important perspective for change management practitioners and for the managers and leaders throughout the organization.

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