Defining the Project Managers Role

The project manager is responsible for coordinating and integrating activities across multiple, functional lines. In order to do this, the project manager needs strong communicative and interpersonal skills, must become familiar with the operations of each line organization, and should have a general knowledge of the technology being used (unless he is managing R&D activities, in which case a command of technology is more important than a general understanding).

An executive with a computer manufacturer stated that his company was looking externally for project managers. When asked if he expected candidates to have a command of computer technology, the executive remarked: "You give me an individual who has good communicative skills and interpersonal skills, and I'll give that individual a job. I can teach people the technology and give them technical experts to assist them in decision making. But I cannot teach somebody how to work with people."

The project manager's job is not an easy one. Project managers may have increasing responsibility, but very little authority. This lack of authority can force them to "negotiate" with upper-level management as well as functional management for control of company resources, as shown in Figure 1 -3. They may often

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The negotiation activities of systems management.

Figure 1-3.

The negotiation activities of systems management.

be treated as outsiders by the formal organization. Yet, even with these problems and roadblocks, they have managed to survive.

In the project environment, everything seems to revolve about the project manager. Although the project organization is a specialized, task-oriented entity, it cannot exist apart from the traditional structure of the organization. The project manager, therefore, must walk the fence between the two organizations. The term interface management is often used for this role, which can be described as:

• Managing human interrelationships within the project team

• Managing human interrelationships between the project team and the functional organizations

• Managing human interrelationships between the project team and senior management

• Managing human interrelationships between the project team and the customer's organization, whether an internal or external organization

Organizational restraints have a tendency to develop into organizational conflict, often requiring that top management take an active role in conflict resolution by:

• Setting a selection criterion for projects

• Establishing priorities among projects

To be effective as a project manager, an individual must have management as well as technical skills. Unfortunately, businesspeople sometimes find it difficult to think as businesspeople. Executives have found that it is usually easier to train engineers rather than businesspeople to fill project management positions.

Because engineers often consider their careers limited in the functional disciplines, they look toward project management and project engineering as career path opportunities. But becoming a manager entails learning about psychology, human behavior, organizational behavior, interpersonal relations, and communications. MBA programs have come to the rescue of individuals desiring the background to be effective project managers.

The average age of project managers in industry is between thirty and forty. The major reason is risk. The younger individual in most cases is willing to take more risks than the older individual in order to meet the project objective. Furthermore, the younger individual is often willing to work long hours including overtime and weekends.

One final comment should be made concerning the young project manager's desire to take risks. Frequently the young risk taker does not fully understand the extent of the risk being taken, because of a lack of experience or a lack of objectivity when implementing one's creative ideas. Although this is a problem, it has a positive aspect if it reflects youth's positive attitude and aggressiveness; an almost innocent view that ''it won't or can't happen to me." Far less positive is the rationale on which risk decisions are frequently made by the younger person. When a risk is taken primarily to further an individual's career, rather than for the betterment of the project (or business); or when the risk taker, if successful, seeks immediate recognition, or is willing to look for a new job if the risk becomes a reality; the risk decision-making process has become flawed and poor decisions can result.

Actually, the age of the project manager varies from industry to industry. Information systems project managers are usually younger than average because current knowledge of computer technology is a necessity. R&D project managers may span the entire age range because of technology requirements. Manufacturing and construction project managers are often older because their experience is important.

In the past, executives motivated and retained qualified personnel primarily with financial incentives. Today other ways are being used. Some people are more title-oriented than money-oriented. For example, a change in title sometimes motivates people to stay with a company simply because they want to put the new title on their resume at a later date. Another method, and by far the best, is work challenge. Perhaps the lowest turnover rates of any professions in the world are in project management and project engineering. In a project environment, the project managers and project engineers get to see their project through from "birth to death." Being able to see the fruits of one's efforts is highly rewarding. A senior project manager in a construction company commented on why he never accepted a vice presidency that had been offered to him: "I can take my children and grandchildren into ten countries in the world and show them facilities that I have built as the project manager. What do I show my kids as an executive? The size of my office? My bank account? A stockholder's report?"

Work challenge and other nonmonetary rewards are becoming increasingly important today, so people are refusing to leave project management positions.

The project manager is actually a general manager and gets to know the total operation of the company. In fact, project managers get to know more about the total operation of a company than most executives know. That is why project management is often used as a training ground to prepare future general managers who will be capable of filling top management positions. That is not a bad idea provided that executives know the general management aspect is the result of experience in integrating work horizontally. Placing an individual into project management for the sole purpose of training a future general manager is not recommended unless the company is willing to risk the failure of the project to provide such training.

Project Management Made Easy

Project Management Made Easy

What you need to know about… Project Management Made Easy! Project management consists of more than just a large building project and can encompass small projects as well. No matter what the size of your project, you need to have some sort of project management. How you manage your project has everything to do with its outcome.

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