Not Everyone Can Be A Project Manager

So, you know how some blog posts are ironically titled, and then you read them and realize the writer was actually making the *opposite* point?  This isn’t one of those posts.  Not everyone can be a project manager. Period.

It’s not a popular thought.  For various reasons (and there are days I truly wonder about this), many people are attracted to the idea of becoming a full-time “Project Manager” as a career path.  They strive to earn credentials, study the discipline, acquire real-world experience, and essentially ‘earn their stripes’.  Unfortunately, the reality is that not everyone can be a project manager.

Like many careers, project management is not suited to all personality types.  Managing projects really means “managing people”.  If you don’t like dealing with a variety of personalities, fulfilling a variety of roles, sometimes working at cross-purposes, then project management is not for you.  It’s one thing to study and emulate the tools and techniques of project management.  It’s quite another to actually apply your knowledge and experience in a tactical manner.  You can learn how to define your WBS, prepare your risk analysis template, draft a perfectly lovely project charter, set up your daily scrums and bi-weekly retrospectives…but completely fail to deliver a project.

People sometimes appear to lose sight of that goal.  Delivering the project – guiding it to achieve its goals and objectives – is the mission critical role of the project manager.  One of the most frustrating, though entertaining, aspects of many certification programs is their completely academic perspective on managing projects.

Suzy is a project manager. She’s just been notified that the vendor responsible for delivering a critical component of her project is delayed by 3 months and facing bankruptcy. Suzy recognizes that this is an urgent issue that could impact the outcome of her project. She immediately escalates the issue to her executive leadership team.

Academic World:
The executive leadership team thanks Suzy for her diligence, and schedules an urgent meeting to discuss how to secure a new vendor, or, potentially push the project date.

Real World:
The executive leadership team is too busy to meet with Suzy until next month.  The following month, during the meeting, Suzy is severely criticized for allowing the issue to sit unresolved for that long.  The executive leadership reiterates to Suzy that she must resolve the issue, somehow, and she must stay the course and meet the original project date.

Actually managing a project – getting it done, and doing it right – means you have to leave your desk. You need to work with people, of all backgrounds, cultures, perspectives, genders, and business levels.  You need to know how to negotiate, persuade, encourage, and ultimately manipulate your project’s world.  You need to lead the charge, not document it.  In the above example, what should “Real World Suzy” have done?  If you don’t know the answer, you may not want to pursue project management as a career.

I’ve had the opportunity over the course of my career to work with, and for, a number of ‘career’ project managers.  Each had their own style of management, focus, and communication.  But the best ones all had one thing in common – they were firmly in the driver’s seat, making decisions and moving things forward.  Regardless of the obstacles put in their path.