Part 4: How does SDG goal 17 impact the role of the project manager?


SDG 17 – is key to achieving the 16 others

Sustainable Development Goal number 17, Partnership, is the key to achieving the other 16 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). Entering partnerships to solve a problem or develop a solution will therefore be the essential factor in most projects in the near future. But how does this impact the project manager role and what competencies should the project manager be able to activate? These are the questions we will strive to answer in this entry, and 5 competencies appear to be crucial…

The article is based on 2 interviews of project managers with experiences in sustainability partnership projects, 2 presentations of experts within the field of sustainability and my own experience as a project manager (see the information box for further details).

Firstly, we will introduce the 17th SDG, Partnership, and list examples of partners (1). Then we will describe what the 17th SDG means for the project manager role (2) followed by introducing the 5 competencies that are essential (3). Finally, we will conclude how the 17th SDG impacts the project manager role. This chapter is called “Increased complexity, value and learning” (4).

The article is based on:
1. Interview with Jan Lund Kristensen, Programme Manager, Independent. Based on experiences in a Project Manager role on a partnership project about developing new sustainable technologies for industry.
2. Interview with Tove Brink, Associate Professor/Phd in innovation and growth in food producing networks, University of Southern Denmark. Based on experiences on the role as Research Project Manager for 2 partnership projects about establishing and running Off shore wind parks .
3. Own notes from business event: “Future labor competences and green transformation”, Rudersdal Municipality, 26th of January 2023. Presentations by:
– Connie Hedegaard, Concito, Chairman of the board and former EU Climate Commissioner
– Anne Marie Meisling, Global Head of Corporate Affairs (Public Affairs, Corporate Communication, Branding, Sustainability & ESG), Chr. Hansen
4. Writer: Louise Borrit, Project Change. Own experiences as a project manager on sustainable partnership projects.

This article is part of an article series linked to the collaboration in a Tx3 on sustainability facilitated by Lasse Borris Sørensen – read more here

About SDG 17

UN homepage describes SDG 17 thus:

“SDG 17: Partnership for the goals: Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development.

The SDGs can only be realized with strong global partnerships and cooperation. A successful development agenda requires inclusive partnerships — at the global, regional, national and local levels — built upon principles and values, and upon a shared vision and shared goals placing people and the planet at the center” 

Sustainable Development Goals (SDG 17) | UN Western Europe (

Partnerships between who?

Partnerships can be across various partners as public, business and research. It can be competitors or across an industry that comes together. It can be countries, investors, and citizen (groups), politicians, NGOs, associations of professional areas or sports or cultural interests and unions. It can be local, national, or global partnerships. UNs SDGs are a global example of a partnership of countries. The UN Global Compact is a global partnership between companies across borders. The point is – no one can save the world alone. We NEED to work together to save our world. We need to have a broader perspective than short term value for ourselves.

What does SDG 17 mean for the project manager role?

It means that projects based on partnerships can have stakeholders with radically different interests, different resources, different competencies, and focus. It will be your role as project manager to unite these differences and translate it into a collection of potentials, opportunities, fellowship, and common purpose.

It will be essential to include the partners in a higher common purpose going way beyond the project triangle. In partnership projects, you might not even have a clear goal or a defined set of resources nor a deadline. Perhaps your partners can agree on the problems at the outset, but the solutions will in almost every case be unknown. There may also be a competition element, meaning you should move fast. Europe wants to outperform the USA or China. The Wind Industry wants to win most of the sustainable energy market over other sustainable solutions as solar energy etc. Your project manager role will be complex and exiting.

Project Manager competencies in play

To succeed in your role as a project manager, in a project based on partnership, you should have the following competencies.

Competence no 1: Basic knowledge about sustainability and getting the right experts in play.

You might think that you need to know a lot about sustainability. But a common basis knowledge can be enough – like on other projects where it is also not necessary for you to be the expert. What is essential is, that you can and will include the right partners in the project and invite different experts into the project. Partners may be the ones who know which experts to call, or they may have their own experts in-house.

Because this is a project with a sustainable goal, of course you should be able to back up your claims and conduct sustainable project management*.

Competence no 2: Stakeholder Management

Your most essential competence in partnership projects is stakeholder management. You need to be able to gain the trust of your partners. Also, ensure they have trust in each other. Sometimes a long cooperation agreement is needed, sometimes not. In any event, you need to work with expectation alignment. You need to be able to have everyone bring value to the table. You need to make sure, that differences between the partnership participants becomes a strength and not a weakness. Every participant should be open and try to understand and respect the other partners and their value. It can be beneficial to make a personal profile of the partner-participants and have a workshop about that. Effort within teambuilding and stakeholder management is not new in project management, but this competence is mentioned again and again in the interviews and cannot be underrated.

Another relevant element is mandate. Which mandate does the partnerships participants have and how does that impact the process and progress. You have to align mandate and establish a governance to support it. Demand the right level of participants. However, when we don’t know the solution a mandate can suddenly be outdated, so the mandate work will be a continuous process throughout the project.

Your own mandate and position is also essential and need to be discussed with the partnership participants. Consider which mandate you need must be a good project manager in the specific project and discuss it on a continuing basis with your steering committee /management. If you are from one of the partners, this can be a challenge both because you are expected to, or can be accused of, prioritizing that particular partner. It can also mean that you don’t have the mandate to decide on behalf of other partners. It can be easier to be a kind of “neutral” project manager outside the partners – for example when you are a researcher helping partners to find common solutions to a sustainability problem. Sometimes you can’t change your mandate and position, but you can be conscious about it and align expectations.

Competence no 3: Think outside the box – innovative, open and learning mindset.

The scope part of the project triangle expands in a sustainable project. Here there may be as much as 5 greater goals (UNs 5 P’s – People, Planet, Prosperity, Peace and Partnership) to follow and up to 17 SDGs to support as a part of the scope. Perhaps your goal is clear – but you may not know if it is achievable. Perhaps the goal is unclear or unspecified. So, to find solutions, to innovate and develop things no one thought about, you must be innovative in your thinking. You must be open to whatever input and thoughts are brought to the table. You also must boost and support your partner-participants to be innovative, open-minded and think outside the box. This means you must create a safe environment with a sense of collaboration and support. A culture of zero fail would be a disaster.

Competence 4: Facilitation with courage

You must be an efficient, sharp, and brave facilitator. In workshop, meetings, and other sessions you need to navigate in uncertainty and differences when it comes to all parameters.  You must be creative, be flexible, have the courage to challenge the partner- participants and be disruptive. All while still maintaining a safe environment and making progress at the same time.

Competence 5: A clearly communicated common purpose

To ensure that you work towards the same goal, despite your differences, you must create a clear common purpose at the outset. This should be the glue holding the partnership together. You have to invest time on this in the initial phase – and ensure ownership among all the partners. Make sure that this purpose is always visible and communicate it again and again. This will help both you and the partner participants to navigate in the process and help you to remember that all the struggles are worth it, because you all contribute towards a better world.

Increased complexity, value, and learning

Competence 1-5 is not new to project management, but it seems like partnership projects increases the complexity for the project manager. At the same time, it is in the partnership projects you have the greatest opportunity for making a difference. It is also mentioned in both interviews and presentations that the learning potential is extensive in these types of projects. If you consider how many projects the world needs to succeed in order to save the world, it is also obvious that experience with project management and sustainability projects will increase your market value.  Go for it – and good luck.


Denne artikel blev udgivet i DPL Magasinet #2023-1 d. 7. september 2023. DPL Magasinet er et fysisk medlemslad man som DPL-medlem modtager. Du kan læse om alle de mange tilbud du får som medlem af Dansk Projektledelse her. Læs baggrunden og historien bag artiklen her.

Louise Borrit
Louise Borrit har 15 års erfaring indenfor ledelse, projektledelse og forandringsledelse. Hun er certificeret indenfor IPMA og Prince 2 samt i Prosci's Change Manager certificering (ADKAR). Hun har bl.a. arbejdet i KMD, LEO Pharma samt Aalborg Universitet. Hun har siddet i bestyrelsen for Dansk Projektledelse og sidder nu i bestyrelsen for den danske forening for forandringsledere - ACMP DK.