Lessons for an Accidental Profession

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Lessons for an Accidental Profession
Jeffrey K, Pinto and Om P. Kharbanda

rejects and project management are the wave of the future in global business. Increasingly technically complex products and processes, vastly shortened time-to-market windows, and the need for cross-functional expertise make project management an important and powerful tool in the hands of organizations that understand its use. But the expanded use of such techniques is not always being met by a concomitant increase in the pool of competent project managers. Unfortunately, and perhaps ironically, it is the very popularity of project management that presents many organizations with their most severe challenges. They often belatedly discover that they simply do not have sufficient numbers of the sorts of competent project managers who are often the key driving force behind successful product or service development. Senior managers in many companies readily acknowledge the ad hoc manner in which most project nlanagers acquire their skills, but they are unsure how to better develop and provide for a supply of well-trained project leaders for the future. In this article, we seek to offer a unique perspective on this neglected species. Though much has been written on how to improve the process of project management, less is known about the sorts of skills and challenges that specifically characterize project managers. What we do know tends to offer a portrait of successful project managers as strong leaders, possessing a variety of problem-solving, communication, motivational, visionary, and team-building skills. Authors such as Posner (1987), Einsiedel (1987), and Petterson (1991) are correct: Project managers are a special breed. Managing projects is a unique challenge that requires a strategy and methodology all its own. Perhaps most important, it requires people willing to function as leaders in every sense of the term. They must not only chart the appropriate course, but provide the means, the support,

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and the confidence for their teams to attain these goals. Effective project managers often operate less as directive and autocratic decision makers than as facilitators, team members, and cheerleaders. In effect, the characteristics we look for in project managers are varied and difficult to pin down. Our goal is to offer some guidelines sion, based on our own views with a number of ers-most of whom had sons the hard way. “Accidental”

Having Humbled in to the knowledge thaf project management has become a vital tool in their organizafional processes, corporafions now musf learn how best to develop and use thaf tool, for an accidental profesexperiences and intersenior project managto learn their own les-

Project Managers

Project managers occupy a unique and often precarious position within many firms. Possessing little formal authority and forced to operate outside the traditional organizational hierarchy, they quickly and often belatedly learn the real limits of their power. It has been said that an effective project manager is the kingpin, but not the king. They are the bosses, it is true, but often in a loosely defined way. Indeed, in most firms they may lack the authority to conduct performance appraisals and offer incentives and rewards to their subordinates. As a result. their management styles must be those of persuasion and influence, rather than coercion and command. Because of these and other limitations on the flexibility and power of project managers, project 41

management has rightly been termed the “accidental profession” by more than one writer. There are two primary reasons for this sobriquet. First, few formal or systematic programs exist for selecting and training project managers, even within firms that specialize in project inanagcment work. This results at best in ad hoc training that may or may not teach these people the skills they need to succeed. Most project managers fall into their responsil3ilities by...
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