The Project Manager As Organizational Leader

Mark Mullaly is president of Interthink Consulting Incorporated, an organizational development and change firm specializing in the creation of effective organizational project management solutions. Since 1990, it has worked with companies throughout North America to develop, enhance and implement effective project management tools, processes, structures and capabilities. Mark was most recently co-lead investigator of the Value of Project Management research project sponsored by PMI. You can read more of his writing at

One of the biggest questions that we need to ask ourselves is this: "Is the role of project management also one of organizational leadership?" It's a simple question to ask, but not nearly as simple to answer.


For many, the role of project manager is a straightforward one: deliver the scope of the project, on time, on budget and to specification. Ignoring the inherent difficulties occasionally encountered in meeting this challenge, let's step back and look at the underlying premise. If we are responsible for delivering the scope of the project, there exists a nice, neat little box in which we are able to live and manage. What is in scope, we deal with. What is out of scope, we do not.


While many project managers would like their lives to be this simple, I believe most of us--and certainly everyone I know--find that defending the walls of the box from incursions on scope is our greatest challenge. Rather than being defined by firm boundaries, the scope tends to flex and respond to shifts in demand and expectation. I would argue that this flexibility is necessary, just as a building's ability to sway gives it more strength than if it is perfectly rigid. The key is not to prevent changes, but to properly manage their impact on the overall structure of the project.


The role of project manager, then, is not managing what is inside the box, but more …

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"If a man does only what is required of him, he is a slave. If a man does more than is required of him, he is a free man."

- Chinese Proverb