Are Project Managers Born or Made?

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Every so often, I hear theories from team members on how their project manager became effective at leading projects. Sometimes they say something like, "She was born to be a project manager." 

This got me to thinking whether some people are naturally predisposed to be project managers, or if they have a specific set of experiences that shapes them to become project managers. It's almost a question of anthropological proportions: Are good project managers born or made? 

To help answer it, let us look at some key competencies of project managers and see if these skills are innate or developed over time.

  1. Functional knowledge. Understanding the fundamental business processes that are added, changed or impacted by a project is an essential competency. An understanding of these business processes allows a project manager to make more effective decisions when it comes to design considerations as well as resolving project issues. But it is a set of skills that one is not necessarily born with. It's typically acquired through training -- many times on-the-job training, for example, in a business process analyst role or a functional role such as manufacturing operator, company accountant or human resources representative. 
  2. Technical expertise. In addition to understanding fundamental business processes, a project manager must also understand the core technologies and supporting tools that enable a successful project outcome. As with functional expertise, we are not born with technical knowledge. Software developer, content designer or software package configuration specialist are just some of the roles where one can accumulate technical expertise. 
  3. Project management experience. Back when I became a project manager, the only real avenue for gaining competency was by serving as a project manager. Today, there are many outlets for gaining exposure to project management in preparation for actually leading a project. Acquiring a certification such as a Project Management Professional (PMP)®, taking training courses on specialized project management practices or serving in a project management office (PMO) role are some examples of professional training opportunities that exist today. 
  4. Leadership. Larry Ellison, the founder of Oracle, once said, "I had all the necessary disadvantages to be successful." Mr. Ellison struggled from modest beginnings to lead a global software company. It is common for project managers to face uncertainty, adversity, conflict and many other challenges every day on a project. Their personal tenacity, durability and creativity can have a large bearing on the overall success of a project. To a great degree, being a leader -- the foundation of a project manager -- is born of our inherited behaviors as well as our early position and experiences in life. 

So coming back to the question of whether project managers are born or made, I think both are true. While nobody has yet found a project manager gene, we all seem to be born into a journey that leads us to being a project manager. This journey starts with the skills and behaviors we're born with, and continues with the functional knowledge, technical expertise and professional training we accumulate over time. This essential mix of what we are as well as how we grow is key to becoming an effective project manager. 

Do you think you were born to be a project manager or became one over time?
Posted by Kevin Korterud on: January 08, 2014 10:00 AM | Permalink

Comments (9)

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Sheila M
Project Managers are both, as you say, born and made. Gotta be smart, gotta be resilient and life experience is very important.

Kevin Korterud
Greetings Shelia...thanks for the commentary...!! I couldn't agree more about your comment. Adversity both personally and professionally seems to be a great teacher from the project management standpoint.. Look for another blog coming soon!

I feel we are born with certain characteristics that contribute to to our projects successes and therefore our chosen careers successes. We need to be leaders who are resilient, persistent and meticulous in our attention to detail, traits that others might not have or might not show an inclination to develop. With this base, every project becomes a personal learning and we develop our own "Body of Knowledge" on how to manage the next one. Unfortunately the next one might require completely different methods and outcomes to the last; this is where experience comes to play. The more often one has encountered a particular challenge, the quicker the steps one takes resolution. Of course, training will also help build on our base and help us recognize these challenges and deal with them timeously.
So my opinion, we are born project managers, but this does not necessarily mean we would not succeed in other lines of work. We also develop into better project managers with years of experience.

Nice little article which begs a question that many strive to answer for almost all roles / jobs / professions etc. It's my belief that one is first "born" a project manager, viz. certain characteristics are natural to you and therefore predispose you to success in the role as a project manager. A great example is how some individuals are more responsible than others in their everyday tasks; people like this tend to take ownership of anything they are involved in.

That said in brief, ultimately proper training and attaining of skills is equally important to master this role and being able to refer to yourself as a Project Manager.

I think there are elements to gaining experience, which allow you to become better project managers. Perhaps you aren't born a project manager, but you are born with elements, which, with growth and experience - allow you to become a better project manager with time. Almost like a bottle of wine maturing ;)

I think that project managers are not born but become project inclined as they grow up and by their experience and the environments they are exposed to.The work that you start to do also helps in helping you identify what aspects appeal to you.

I believe that it’s a blend of both - Functional knowledge, technical expertise and project management experience come from the skills and experience we develop during the course of our careers. For the 4th skill; leadership – You have to be someone who enjoys taking on the leadership role and can handle the responsibilities that come with the role. Therefore people are either born to be leaders or not. I agree 100% that leadership is critical to project management and therefore if you are a born leader you are also a born project manager.

In my opinion, we are born with traits of leadership characteristics which become developed or hampered by our exposures and experiences during the stages of our growing up. The challenges and experiences coupled with skills and education will help shape our destiny. I believe people can be born leaders but need to be trained to become project managers.

I feel that a project manager is 90% tught and 10% brn with it. The 10% ae the personality traits that the Project manager possess.

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