Who’s the best? A project or a line manager?
A line manager has a relatively simple role: His or her organisation only has to do the same thing tomorrow as it is already doing today – hopefully slightly better and more efficient.
A project manager on the other hand is constantly up for a real challenge. Projects – by definition – are unique endeavours, with increased uncertainty and risk, carried out by temporary organisations. Projects have a fixed deadline and are often the vehicle for change. Projects often even challenge the very organisation they exist in (like a digital camera project at Kodak) and the demand for communication skills, political manoeuvring and diplomacy are often overwhelming. The faster the market changes, the more important and challenging project management becomes.
Project management often underestimated
Hopefully everyone understands the intended exaggeration above. Line managers often face disruptive changes or entrepreneurial challenges and there are lots of projects who come across as anything but vehicles for change.
However, I do think that there is some truth in the first two paragraphs, and that the importance and difficulty of the project management role is often greatly underestimated.
The purpose of the headline is of course to make you want to read. I will not try to answer its question, but rather rephrase it as “Who needs to be the better manager and what do organisations today do to make sure enough of their best managers will be available to manage their most important projects?”.
Consequences when you fail to understand
Personally I think most top management teams fail to understand the importance of true project management skills. I also see the following scenario only too often:
- Low performing line managers are “demoted” to project managers and there are no serious career paths for junior project managers aspiring to a future C-level position
- Since “everyone” knows the best managers are not the project managers they are not given enough authority to manage their projects (nor do they claim it)
- To compensate for weaker management, more and more mandatory procedures and detailed document templates are introduced and project managers become project administrators trying to keep up with administration and documenting what is “happening to” the project rather than being the dynamic and communicative leaders that would ensure success
- Senior management complain about the bureaucracy of project management and wish the whole company could be faster and more focused …
There are also good examples of organisations where project management is truly appreciated but we need to see more of them. We need to help spread the word of the Formula One of management: project management. And we need to make more organisations internationally competitive in facing the rapid change of today and tomorrow.