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Topics: Career Development, Ethics, Using PMI Standards
Does anyone else feel like the role of the project manager is not well understood?
Anonymous
I am a research project manager in academia for a large complex research study. The role of the project manager is fairly new in my department. In my two years in this job, I constantly had to justify myself for doing regular project management tasks, such as just being involved and understanding what is going on.
I thought it is normal to overlap in tasks with functional managers which can lead to friction. However, I am currently struggling with a functional manager who is upset after I sent information on organizational theory and roles in project management based on PMI principles, and how I think our project fits into that framework. I am having to justify what I do for a job more than ever right now. Does anyone else feel that too? Is it just academia?
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Sounds like you are living the challenges of being a PM in a functional structure which may be slowly morphing into a weak matrix one.

This goes well beyond academia to all industries.

I'd also suggest that "technical" managers or staff looking down on PMs is a common starting point in many industries where having an official domain credential or having worked in a key role within that domain for a number of years is viewed as essential.

When I worked in healthcare, for example, it took a fair bit of effort on my part to gain the respect and trust of clinicians such as nurses and doctors who felt that there was no way I could lead a healthcare project without being an RN or MD...

Kiron
I think people think they do when they really don't and then think they should be the PM.
People have widely different views of what a PM really is, from an administrative position to a highly responsible one, so it absolutely is not well understood consistently across the entire spectrum of knowledge domains with a few exceptions (like PMI themselves).

The fundamental purpose of management to many managers is to grow their own authority, and they don't like anyone intruding in their zone of responsibility if you will. In an ideal world, that wouldn't happen, but we don't live in an ideal world.

The problem with that is they often have their blinders on, focus on their own team, and don't see how their own actions impact other parts of an organization, which is really sub-optimizing solutions based on their own needs. Where I often sell the role of the PM is the integration across teams so that we seek balanced solutions that are best for the organization as a whole...

It can sometimes be a tough sell to people who don't already understand the true value of the PM role.
I have encountered colleagues with a total misconception of what a project manager role is about. They might think that a PM is someone who creates and monitors a Gantt chart and shoots out a few e-mails every day to ensure adherence to timelines.

It looks like your organization is going through a deep change in its core and ways of working. It is frequent to stump upon some degree of resistence. Company's senior management must ensure that everyone in the organization is aware and accept the changes. Acceptance and appreciation of your work will increase as soon as people around you see the added value that a PM brings to the table.
Yes, project manager have to prove their value every day, even more in a functional, weak matrix organization as academia. It's hard and some times sucks your energy even more when you are not officially "mandated". My suggestion would be focus on your activities, apply PM methodologies and look for a mentor. A person inside you environment that you can count on. Someone with more experience, not necessarily in project management. Don't stress, you are not the first, neither the last in the position you are. See it as an experimentation project.
best regards
I think this kind of issues are more common when the PM is not a subject matter expert in a relevant line of work related to the project.

SMEs would never accept to be led by someone that is not an expert like they are and also functional managers would not agree to let such PMs manage their subordinates. This is common sense.

So as a non-technical PM you should forget about leading people in the true sense and you should focus more on facilitating and coordianting. Also you should see the team members as your peers and not as subordinates because technically they are really not your subordinates.

I have heard advises given to PMs on how they should manage "their" team members, but these advises assume the PM is also the line manager of those team member and also he is more experienced. This however is not a general rule, some PMs have to work with team members that are more senior than them in the organization and also in pay.
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1 reply by Stéphane Parent
May 19, 2020 11:03 AM
Stéphane Parent
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You remind of the days when I was managing twenty or so database engineers for an IT service company. (Before you ask, I was an Oracle DBMS Certified Professional so I could speak their language.)

I had to switch from the technical to the management track. Interestingly, line managers in an IT organization are not paid as well as their senior technical underlings.
May 19, 2020 9:49 AM
Replying to Adrian Carlogea
...
I think this kind of issues are more common when the PM is not a subject matter expert in a relevant line of work related to the project.

SMEs would never accept to be led by someone that is not an expert like they are and also functional managers would not agree to let such PMs manage their subordinates. This is common sense.

So as a non-technical PM you should forget about leading people in the true sense and you should focus more on facilitating and coordianting. Also you should see the team members as your peers and not as subordinates because technically they are really not your subordinates.

I have heard advises given to PMs on how they should manage "their" team members, but these advises assume the PM is also the line manager of those team member and also he is more experienced. This however is not a general rule, some PMs have to work with team members that are more senior than them in the organization and also in pay.
You remind of the days when I was managing twenty or so database engineers for an IT service company. (Before you ask, I was an Oracle DBMS Certified Professional so I could speak their language.)

I had to switch from the technical to the management track. Interestingly, line managers in an IT organization are not paid as well as their senior technical underlings.
...
1 reply by Adrian Carlogea
May 19, 2020 12:03 PM
Adrian Carlogea
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Hi Stephane.

I did not know that it is possible for an employee to earn more than his line managers, unless the "employee" is really a contractor.

What I have seen is that in some companies people can be promoted to managerial levels without really becoming managers. Usually when this happens those employees would not report to managers that are at a equal or lower level than themselves.

For instance if someone is promoted to principal engineer and that role is equivalent with engineering manager then the principal engineer would report to a director and not to a manager or worse to a team lead. But I guess some companies may have employees directly reporting to managers that are at lower levels than themselves. Nobody can stop companies from doing this, although I find it strange.

In the case of the PMs however usually the team members don't report to them directly no matter the seniority levels.
May 19, 2020 11:03 AM
Replying to Stéphane Parent
...
You remind of the days when I was managing twenty or so database engineers for an IT service company. (Before you ask, I was an Oracle DBMS Certified Professional so I could speak their language.)

I had to switch from the technical to the management track. Interestingly, line managers in an IT organization are not paid as well as their senior technical underlings.
Hi Stephane.

I did not know that it is possible for an employee to earn more than his line managers, unless the "employee" is really a contractor.

What I have seen is that in some companies people can be promoted to managerial levels without really becoming managers. Usually when this happens those employees would not report to managers that are at a equal or lower level than themselves.

For instance if someone is promoted to principal engineer and that role is equivalent with engineering manager then the principal engineer would report to a director and not to a manager or worse to a team lead. But I guess some companies may have employees directly reporting to managers that are at lower levels than themselves. Nobody can stop companies from doing this, although I find it strange.

In the case of the PMs however usually the team members don't report to them directly no matter the seniority levels.
...
1 reply by Keith Novak
May 19, 2020 1:08 PM
Keith Novak
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Management and non-management are often different job classifications each with different skill levels. Pay level may have no relationship to who is assigned what manager, however at the highest skill levels, an employee may be an individual contributor such as a consultant reporting to senior level management rather than a 1st line manager.
May 19, 2020 12:03 PM
Replying to Adrian Carlogea
...
Hi Stephane.

I did not know that it is possible for an employee to earn more than his line managers, unless the "employee" is really a contractor.

What I have seen is that in some companies people can be promoted to managerial levels without really becoming managers. Usually when this happens those employees would not report to managers that are at a equal or lower level than themselves.

For instance if someone is promoted to principal engineer and that role is equivalent with engineering manager then the principal engineer would report to a director and not to a manager or worse to a team lead. But I guess some companies may have employees directly reporting to managers that are at lower levels than themselves. Nobody can stop companies from doing this, although I find it strange.

In the case of the PMs however usually the team members don't report to them directly no matter the seniority levels.
Management and non-management are often different job classifications each with different skill levels. Pay level may have no relationship to who is assigned what manager, however at the highest skill levels, an employee may be an individual contributor such as a consultant reporting to senior level management rather than a 1st line manager.
...
1 reply by Adrian Carlogea
May 19, 2020 2:45 PM
Adrian Carlogea
...
Yes but people in management are promoted from among non-management employees that have reached a certain seniority level as individual contributors.

After that level some companies have a so called dual career ladder: management and technical. That means that someone on the technical ladder has an equivalent managerial position. Pay levels indeed may vary but usually companies have ranges for each level.

To make it more complicated I heard that in some tech companies some individual contributors may be given direct reports even if they are not managers. Each company chooses its own way in this.
Adrian & Keith: The funny part of it was that as a manager, I was not entitled to overtime compensation. Of course, no such restriction is imposed on technical jobs.

Even on projects, I've been billed to a client at a lesser rate than the enterprise/solution architect working on the project. (Of course, they don't tend to work full time on the project.)
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