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Project manager or entrepreneur?

Are you a project manager or are you an entrepreneur? The chances are thats a question that you havent asked yourself until this moment. But it is a question that you should be asking yourself, according to Vince Hines, managing director of APMs career development partner, Wellingtone Project Management.

Speaking at APMs 'APM Presents' event, which took place in London on 16 October, Hines highlighted three key skills that project managers have in common with entrepreneurs.

They are the ability to drive a team, a willingness to take risks and being prepared to take responsibility.

Hines certainly has a point. These are indeed three key skills that project managers do share with entrepreneurs. And probably there are project managers reading this right now who feel that running their own project is rather like running their own business. They have to manage the budget, recruit staff, come up with ideas to solve problems, manage conflict, keep their customers (stakeholders, in other words) happy and invariably resolve IT issues. They work long hours, are run off their feet all day long and hurtle from one deadline to the next, all without taking a breath pretty much in the way that an entrepreneur would do.

But those project managers reading this article who also run their own businesses know that being an entrepreneur brings with it extra challenges that project managers who work for large organisations wont have to cope with.

For a start, entrepreneurs tend to start small which means they have few resources, few if any staff and often a limited pot of money. While many project managers will often, rightly - argue that they are expected to do a lot with very little, this is not quite the same as starting out with next to nothing.

Then there is the question of risk. When you work for yourself, there is no safety net. If you are sick or injured, you dont have any back-up. If your business which is essentially your project goes wrong, there isnt necessarily a Plan B. Someone in senior management isnt going to suddenly parachute you onto another project. You are senior management.

Finally, dont forget about financial reward. When youre an entrepreneur, you get to reap the rewards of your efforts in a way that you wont if you are a project manager who is employed by an organisation. Having said that, however, it is important to remember that financial reward is not the only factor that motivates people most of us are also motivated by being able to make a difference as well.

So are project managers really that similar to entrepreneurs? In my view, yes and no is the honest answer to that one. But being a project manager is probably a very good foundation for going on to become an entrepreneur.

3 comments

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  1. Sally Percy
    Sally Percy 08 December 2014, 04:38 PM

    Terry and John, thank you both for your interesting feedback. I agree with you both - firstly that being an entrepreneur means risking your own money, a responsbility that can never be taken lightly. Secondly, the point about senior management giving their project managers entrepreneurial flexibility is very important because this is often just what project managers don't get. I am thinking that there could be a very interesting article along the lines of "The project manager as an entrepreneur" that we should look to run in Project magazine!

  2. John Jukes
    John Jukes 28 November 2014, 01:44 PM

    A genuinely interesting article.Speaking from the perspective of an entreprenuer and project manager I particularly picked up on the reference to 'work long hours, are run off their feet, hurtle from one deadline to the next....pretty much the way that an entrepreneur would do'.I too have seen the behaviour that embodies your comment (and at one time lived through that way of working), I'm sure many others have too (and statistically some are still using that ethos of working).Linking in to Terry's comment, the entrepreneurial way often, by necessity, brings other skills to the fore and this must include the ability to make life as 'easy' as possible. This 'ease' includes the ability to delegate, foresee problems, adopt flexible approaches and spend as much time working 'on' the business rather than being consumed 'in' the business. In my mind, this approach should be mirrored in the PM that works for a larger company but I wonder whether the senior managers of businesses would ever wish to bestow 'entrepreneurial flexibility' upon their PMs as they may see it as too risky.That ethos is not easy to adopt, but is extremely valuable. It's not about achieving the 'nirvana' project, but at least raising your head above the deluge of project tasks to ask 'is there another way?'. By adopting improved methods it allows the project to be delivered in a more optimised way (by sharing the load), improves the base of people for problem solving and aims to preserve sanity.The ability to seek and adopt better ways of working is often vital for an entrepreneur.I wonder whether large organisations support their PMs sufficiently to allow them to capitalise on 'better ways of working'.

  3. Terry O'Dowd
    Terry O'Dowd 27 November 2014, 09:10 PM

    With respect to good project managers absolutely, but running your own business risks your own money not somebody else's. The entrepreneur can't hide within a large organisation, he has no excuses and has nobody else to blame of things go awry. spending your own money/time focuses the mind like nothing else.