What turns a normal human being into a project manager?

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What turns a normal human being into a project manager?

After 20 years of doing the job, I have sometimes wondered what turns a normal human being into a project manager. An odd question maybe, but consider what those job adverts ask for – “delivery to cost and schedule, commercial awareness, PRINCE2, MSP, team player…” and the list goes on.

Is this what project management is really about?

Take PRINCE2 for instance, it’s a standard project management process. So I “know” PRINCE2, understand how it works and how to work with(in) it. But am I managing ‘it’ or is ‘it’ managing me.

Is this project management or is this project administration?

OK, so how about ‘commercial awareness’ or ‘team player’. No process can bestow these skills, but then again neither can any qualification. A couple of articles I read recently* capture this dilemma by saying that in the absence of experience, no number of qualifications will make a project manager. This is a Catch 22 situation, because the argument follows that you can’t become a project manager unless you’ve already managed projects.

So, is experience becoming the key essential for a project manager?

On thinking about it, the biggest and most time consuming part of my job is spent on working with people. Not just my team, but just about everybody I come into contact with. I spend a lot of time communicating by talking, exchanging e-mails, going off to meetings and generally walking the floorplate etc. But it’s more than that a “walk the walk & talk the talk” exercise. To me it’s about:

  • What I say and how I say it, and,
  • what ‘they’ say and how ‘they’ say it.

If anything, I spend more time listening that talking, as I’m always looking to improve my understanding to help me make better decisions.

So, is the people aspect the key to project management? :

I still have a problem with the definition of what turns a normal human being into a project manager. However, I think it’s fair to say that, first and foremost, the key starting ingredient to becoming a project manager is the ability to work with people. Add this ability with an understanding of governance and processes, apply this mix across an assortment of projects, and one day the meaningful label of experienced project manager may be gained.

*Facilitating Selection and Development:
The Case of the “Accidental Professionals” - Project and Programme Managers (174kb)



Posted by Sion Jones on 17th May 2011

About the Author
Sion has worked in engineering & technology, principally aerospace & defence since 1980. He moved from Engineering to Programme Management in 1990, and has managed a range of software/hardware development projects and programmes. He has experience of international subcontract management and collaborative working and is currently employed by Quintec Associates, mostly on defence programmes with departures into underground rail and nuclear decommissioning domains. He was involvement with the People SIG from around 2008 before becoming a full committee member in 2010 until 2014. He took early retirement at the end of September 2015

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