Project Manager By Choice or Default?

September 30, 2011 by  Filed under: Management 

The reasons for assigning a project manager role to an individual from within an organisation are sound ones – knowledge of the company, its products and people should by no means be underestimated. But whether that person has the necessary skills to lead a project is not always taken into account and there can be just as many problems with promoting internally as in hiring an unknown, but experienced, person from a different organisation who has specifically chosen this profession.

In fact, does the person interviewing for the role even know which attributes to look out for in the potential candidates? The skills and attributes required by a truly competent project manager are wide and varied and go far beyond the qualifications they may possess. The attitude, personality and soft skills of the candidate must also be considered but this is often difficult to assess accurately at interview.

So, within an organisation, many people still drift into the role or have it thrust upon them because of the growing need within businesses for people to control the work, the budget and the time of the many projects being initiated. Those promoted internally tend to come from a purely managerial background or a purely technical background and often lack the skills and competencies required to manage a complex project successfully. So along with the boom in projects has come a boom in the need for training so that these individuals can acquire the necessary skills.

Project management is still a relatively new profession but increasingly, as in established professions such as law or accountancy, professional credentials are available to provide recognition for stages, achievements and milestones on this career path.

Many of these relatively recent accreditations recognise (and, indeed, demand) practical experience so they avoid the problems associated with some project management courses where candidates gain a theoretical knowledge of processes and techniques, but lack the practical experience required to fully understand the realities of a real project environment. Because of the considerable effort required to attain these credentials, they are also indicative of a desire to continue within the profession.

The personality traits of an individual are those innate characteristics that are difficult to teach and to learn, yet are key factors in the success of a project. Personal values and motivation also contribute to a project’s success or failure.

Skills, or competencies, on the other hand can be taught and learned – project management, as with many roles, has a basic set of skills required to perform the role effectively, which include attributes such as:

  • ability to lead a team
  • composure
  • motivation
  • conscientiousness
  • management of expectations
  • problem solving

Many of these attributes only come to the fore when an individual is exposed to an opportunity or experience (such as a formal training course) that enables them to be learnt. Standard definitions of core competencies are published by organisations such as the PMI and their PMP Certification is widely accepted as recognition of professional competence. For those new to project management the APM Introductory Certificate is a good first place to start your training. So project manager by choice or not – perhaps it is innate attributes and opportunities in training and experience that define success, or not.

The author is a qualified PRINCE2 Project Manager and believes that the right project management courses can transform a good project manager into a great project manager and are essential for a successful outcome to any project.

There is a wide range of formal and informal training now available that include online learning and podcasts in qualifications such as PMP Certification, APMP and PRINCE2.

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