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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Put Me in, Coach: Role vs. Soul

The typical project manager has the soul of a high-performance player, and that’s a problem. The job calls for someone entirely different.

The solo champion is disciplined, self-demanding and unshakably focused on the task at hand. The champ is fiercely competitive and supremely self-reliant. Those characteristics are widely admired, and rightly so.

They just aren’t good for the project manager.

The role of the project manager is defined in countless variations, but the best descriptions call for finely-tuned skills in persuasion, collaboration and delegation.

We all have known managers, in projects and in other circumstances, who were disciplined, demanding, etc., and they often were good managers. They were respected, perhaps feared, and you didn’t want to cross them.

But few of them could successfully delegate, and their style was not what you’d call collaborative. They really didn’t have the ability to lead groups of mutually supportive professionals operating autonomously.

Taskmasters don’t inspire initiative, or creative problem-solving. They tend to be more critical than helpful. They are better at nailing mistakes than helping with solutions or improving the skills of their team members.

There’s another, perhaps more frequent, issue with the people who are asked to manage projects. This is when the appointee is chosen because he/she is really good at the specialty involved, or is a good worker, period.

What’s the problem with that?

Well, the problem is that no one checked to see whether the person can manage. The distinction between doing and supervising was not drawn. Doing something well is radically different from overseeing other people who are doing that thing.

Subject matter expertise is vital to the individual contributor. For the manager, it is a nice thing to have, but it’s far less important than the person’s grasp of the unique skills of management. The frequent assumption that one equals the other is the bane of the workplace.

But project management most often has another burden, one that burns out project managers and crashes projects.

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