Skip to main content

Who Manages the Project Manager?

If the project manager is responsible for projects with the responsibility and authority for a project, what is the role of the manager of the PM?

Little if any discussion is held regarding the organization in which the project manager resides, and more specifically to the management of the individual project manager.  Even in the many discussions of the PMO organization, the emphasis is on the role of the PMO and the support provided to the project management function.  In most organizations the project manager is given a process to follow, project governance standards to meet and project approval expectations.  The actual project work is expected to be determined by the project manager to be able to deliver a successfully completed project (on time, within budget, fulfillment of scope as well as customer satisfaction).

In the PMBOK there are a number of pages dedicated to talking about the role of the project manager in different types of organizations (functional, matrix and projectized).  The organizational structure has a great impact on the ability of the project manager to actually manage projects.  These also have an influence on the project team members and scope of the projects themselves.

Given the expectations of the project results, what is the real role of the manager of the project manager?  To ensure that the standards are met (an auditor of the process and results) – or a traditional role of a manager (a mentor and professional development facilitator)?

So what are the characteristics of a good manager?

We as project managers are “managers” who are responsible for developing and managing our project teams – but given the temporal nature of projects, this management is of limited duration and the team being managed changes frequently.   This is not the “manager/management” that I am referring to.  The more traditional personnel management role involves responsibility for administration, setting goals, mentoring and training to promote personal and professional growth.  The main job of a manager is to get things done through others rather than do it themselves. Since many managers of project managers were previously project managers themselves, it is hard to let go and “manage and lead” rather than “do.” 

When you engage staff, empower them, and let them grow and contribute – the results are very good.  The employees, and their attitudes, make all the difference in the world. 

Managers who are able to surround themselves with the best people with have the best chance to succeed.

Having been a manager at different levels in multiple organizations, I can attest to the fact that it is very hard to be a manager, much less a good manager.  The skills required to inspire, lead, make difficult decisions, properly allocate resources, hire the “right” people, etc. are some of the hardest skills to master.  In addition, mastering management skills requires a high level of interpersonal skills.

So what are the characteristics of a bad manager?

Unfortunately, organizations today seem to continue to reward those who sacrifice their time, their family and their lives over those who find ways to manage effectively, and become more efficient.  They regard this behavior with promotions and advancements.  These individuals may be highly qualified hands-on team members, but seldom have either the experience or skills to manage.  Because of this lack of experience they often do not have the soft skills needed to manage. 

Even the PMBOK provides a framework that an experienced project manager can work within and choose what is appropriate for each project.  Many of these processes, especially within the Human Resource and Communications knowledge areas, are applicable not only to projects but also to management in general.  Without previous experience the inexperienced manager often resorts to doing things as they have done in the past, rather than being able to apply what is appropriate for each situation they encounter.

Some of my personal observations of bad managers include:

Negative vs Positive reinforcement

The manager feels more comfortable criticizing poor behavior rather than providing a positive reinforcement environment for positive employee performance.  This may come as a result of feeling that no one can do the job as well as they might have done themselves. This negative view will not allow problems or mistakes to be forgotten and reminders of these negative events are continually mentioned.  This often includes quickly pointing the finger at the project manager when things go bad.  On the other hand when a project effort is successful, these same managers are the first ones to take personal credit for the success.  Rather than being a win-win situation, it quickly becomes a lose-lose environment where there is little incentive to strive for successful outcomes.

Conflict Management

Without the basic management skills, managers often lack the courage to deal with, or completely ignore a difficult situation (avoidance).  By not addressing these situations there is no leadership and the staff does not have a clear understanding of the appropriate actions to take.  Even on the PMP exam, the best way to handle a situation like this is “confrontation” – confront the situation and move on. It’s always easier to move to the outer edges of the conflict management chart rather than orchestrating a lasting solution.

Motivational Theories

Because of limited experiences, a bad manager often causes dissention among staff members by his or her actions and comments, often becoming a Theory X manager.  This can result in either taking an arrogant or authoritarian stance or micromanaging. Over time, and given more training and experience in a true personnel management role, hopefully the communication and personal skills will improve and allow the leadership style to move towards a Theory Y position.  This trust by management in the staff will increase the positive attitude of all, especially experienced project managers who resent being personally micro-managed.

Experience of the manager

In the economy we are living in today many very experienced project managers are now working in an environment where they are reporting to a manager who has very limited experience, both in management as well as the job itself.  This is often the result of internal promotions where a person who has progressed through many roles within an organization is therefore being rewarded for their years of service, rather than their experience and skill in the position they are assuming.  Is this a perfect example of the Peter Principal? The most important skills of a manager are vastly different from those of a technical lead. How is mentoring possible when the “mentoree” is often far more experienced than the “mentor?”  Obviously everyone can learn from others, but there is a fine line between providing guidance and being condescending. 

All of the above situations drain the spirit and commitment out of the best workers and rewards poor workers who learn how to ‘game’ the system and do just enough to survive.  But can a positive work environment exist, and successful projects completed when a negative environment exists?

Sometimes I wonder if it is only me who continues to have bad managers or whether my husband is right when he says there really are very few “good managers.”  In fact he attended a project manager’s conference last year where in one session of 30 project managers, over half were asked by their management to commit unethical activities. Some of them admitted they had no choice, some refused and some changed companies. 

What do you do when you find yourself in this situation?  What if you believe that your manager feels intimidated by you – even to the point of sabotaging your work or taking credit for it?  Should not a manager look for individuals with extensive experience (which might be more than their own hands-on experience) since if the efforts of the group are successful, then the manager will in turn be successful?

I invite you to express your experiences with your current or previous manager, either good or bad.  I would really like to know about your situation and how it made you feel.

Don’t forget to leave your comments below.

Comments (6)