The 50-something Project Manager

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Categories: Generational PM

Nowadays, many of the seasoned project management professionals across the world are part of the baby boomer generation, a term often used for those born between mid-1940s and the mid-1960s. I'd like to talk about their contribution to the project management profession.

As a member of this generation, I can attest that baby boomers are competitive by nature. We are confident, independent and self-reliant. Although respectful of authority and hierarchy, baby boomers think that rules can be changed. Thus, don't be surprised if during a project meeting baby boomers argue about the project issues.

While leading a multigenerational team, baby boomer project managers will face conflicts due to the diversity of generational values. Addressing conflict in a multigenerational team will require for the project manager to master a multigenerational mindset.

That means you must:

•    Understand that beliefs and values are not easy to change. Learn about why other generations behave as they do.

•    Put yourself in someone else's shoes to get a better perspective on what motivates the multigenerational team.

•    Work with the generational differences rather against them. Establish an on-going and candid communication environment that fosters dialog among the team members.

Regardless of your generation, your purpose as a project manager is to lead and inspire your project team while leveraging the divergent point of views of your team members.
As a baby boomer project manager, how do you deal with generational differences in your project team? Are you doing something to master your multigenerational mindset?

See more posts about multigenerational teams.

Posted by Conrado Morlan on: September 22, 2011 11:41 AM | Permalink

Comments (12)

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Fadi El-Eter
I think when all the baby boomers retire, we will cease to have projects finished on time. Baby boomers were and still are the best project managers, those who can really get things done.

David Robins
Right on, I especially like the advice put yourself in someone else shoes. As a project manager you need to see the other side of every argument.

I will add that you need to embrace social communication and collaboration. The younger project members are used to social networks and use it as the main form of communication and collaboration.

David Robins

Zack Schwenk
Categorically saying that baby boomers are the only the ones that can get projects implemented on time shows a narrow-mindedness that shouldn't be present in a PM.

I fall somewhere between Gen X and Gen Y, depends on which year-range you subscribe to. When a project I'm on or managing is implemented behind schedule I feel a personal loss and a sense of duty when it comes to figuring out why.

Alan Bustamatne
Great post. My experience in software has been that, with the movement towards Agile methods, the baby boomers often struggle to make the shift from command and control style of management to a servant leadership style.

Speaking as a Gen Xer, our generation and the ones that have followed (ie. Gen Y and the Millennials) have become accustomed to having a voice and getting involved in multiple aspects of project work. So, good tips on how to get the baby boomers more engaged with their younger counterparts.

As far as the comment from Fadi about projects ceasing to finish on time when the boomers retire. That is not a generational problem and sounds like a bitter comment to me. Besides, whats so great about a project that finishes on time if it fails to deliver any value to the customer.

Jill Hart
Although I'm not a Baby Boomer, the point made about leading multi-generational teams is one that deserves acknowledgment.

I listened to Tamara Erickson present on the topic yesterday at the World Business Forum in NYC. Her distinctions between generations and their framework for approaching life and work were eye-opening.

For those interested in reading more on the topic she has written a book as a result of the findings from her research on the topic called 'What's Next, Generation X?' If the book was anything like her presentation it's sure to be great!


Mary Romano
I must agree with David Robins regarding the use of social communication and collaboration. As a younger individual in this field, I can say that I am frequently up to speed with many issues and document releases from the FDA based on social networks alone (Twitter is a great example, which is how I became aware of this post).

As for when the baby boomers retire, there will likely be a new wave of project managers emerging as a generation retires and positions become available in a quickly growing field. Dealing with generational issues and gaps in mindsets is just as much of a challenge for younger project managers as it is for the baby boomers; especially given that more often than not younger staff need to prove themselves that much more.

I believe that PMs are a particular breed of people - able to handle stress, work in a challenging environment and communicate and manage diverse teams, all while getting the project done within the time, scope and cost. Individuals who are able to thrive in this environment will become top-of-the-line project managers, regardless of age.

Open and honest communication is important no matter what the ages of our team mates are.

One thing here that doesn't seem to get mentioned is knowledge transfer from those who have been doing the job for quite some time to those of lesser experience. Those who forget the lessons and mistakes of the past will be condemned to repeat them.

Which leads me into my next point. Multigenerational teams go both ways. Younger folks need to adjust to work together with the boomers too. And the best thing the younger people can do is pick the brains of the people who have been doing the work for years. Learn from their mistakes. Don't reinvent with there may already be a solution from the past.

Conrado Morlan
Social communication can be a great tool in projects as Mary Romano and David Robins mentioned.

In my personal experience, I have seen organizations not embracing this type of communication openly mainly for security and privacy reasons. Currently there are several off-the-shelf applications available that work in the social media environment and provide the privacy required in projects.

Use and rules of social communication in projects should be discussed and agreed in the early stages of the project and its promotion should reach all the project stakeholders.

The use of social communication has spread across generations although some team members, not only baby boomers or members of silent generation, may not use it immediately.

As funny as it may sound, two Gen Y members of my team are not into social media. —Conrado

Bobby C
I am 61 years old and have 35 years porject management experience, was owner of a construction firm and have managed hundreds of small commercial projects and many multi million dollar projects and have a reputation for bringing projects in on time and on budget. I have been out of the industry for 3 years and looking to get back in. However most of the top jobs require you to be PMP certified which is a darn shame because someone with half of my experience will get the job. My brother is having the same problem with his construction supervisor's license, they keep adding endorsements to his license, requiring him to go back for training and of course pay more. Kind of like your credit score, you can pay your bills but if you are late on a payment your cooked. I view PMP as being about money. Firms used to hire people based on education, experience and money. The first project I worked on was a nuclear power plant. There was a lean management team 200 managers, supers, engineers and admin. the palnt came in on time and on budget. 10 years later I was asst. project manager on a PWR project. There were 2000 managers, engineers and admin personnel. By the time the project was 45% complete it had exceeded it's 2.5 Billion budget. Why? design wasn't current, causing rework, causing low employee morale. Most of these mangers looked at the project from their window. they did not engage the workers they did not train them nor did they mentor them. There was no cpm and no field monitoring team. Personally I can see someone gaining a PMP certification. But question is what is their record. Did they get their hands dirty. or are they just textbook? Oh well ...maybe I will try some other line of work like Walmart and let the PMP's learn their own lessons.

Raphael M Dua
Well as a Project Manager / Director / Planner and Scheduler for the best part of 50 years or more, I find that I get on very well with my colleagues regardless of the age differences.

The nice thing is that the current new PM's love ones war stories about projects that almost got away, but by sheer dint of effort the project was saved.

Frankly I enjoy the age gap, because my contemporaries and I lived for what is now History for the younger folks and that still gives you that edge you need for continued success


Syed Moiz
Project Managers from baby boomers generation or any generation face very contemporary challenge of making an idea or a plan acceptable and steer it to success.

Generational gap as such is very discrete and will remain a non-issue in Project Teams when they PM ensure to listen, empower and feedback his team with true commitment in full confidence.

Companies must be welcoming to an aging workforce:

Just as Boomers need to make changes in order to fit into organizations that may very well be led by, and staffed with, workers younger than themselves, company leaders need to set a tone that is welcoming and tolerant of an aging workforce.

Age bias can be subtle or overt, but either way, it violates the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, which protects individuals age 40 or above, with very few exceptions.

This means workers, regardless of their age, must be offered opportunities to advance, to access training, to transfer to desired positions, to be rewarded for their performances, and to receive feedback and coaching.

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