By Christian Green, Kepner-Tregoe 

Projects are the way work gets done within organizations, so finding the right person to manage a project is critical. Every project—no matter how large or how small—needs a project manager (PM).  The Project Manager’s role may vary, depending on the project scope and complexity.  Success is more likely achieved when the chosen PM has the time, skills, and personal qualities needed to do the job.

Who is the PM?

The PM is like a basketball coach or the manager of an American football team—the PM is the one who develops the game plan and guides the team to victory.  The role of the PM is not only to plan the project but also to estimate costs and resources needed, schedule and coordinate the implementation activities.  The PM is also a change manager who needs to communicate up, down and sideways to various stakeholders updating the plan as progress is made. More than managing a budget and schedule, the PM is the person who facilitates, monitors and cheers the team on as project deliverables are completed and ensures that any obstacles met are overcome.

While this is rarely mentioned in a formal description, the PM is the conscience of the project and its team. Both a nag and father/mother confessor, the PM is the surrogate for the stakeholders and the scapegoat when problems arise.  The strength of the team, level of executive support and adequacy of funding can never compensate for a weak PM. However, a strong PM can push a project towards success even if the team falters, executive support wavers or funding is threatened.

What are the criteria to consider in selecting a PM?

A good PM may not have advanced subject matter expertise in specific project activities. If the PM has too much at stake in the project, objectivity can be threatened. In a major project, advanced expertise is often provided by sub-project managers who are charged with overseeing specific parts of the overall project. In some organizations fulltime PMs have no responsibilities outside of project work or they are contractors who provide their services on a project basis. In fact, fulltime PMs are a growing profession.

  • When choosing a PM, some criteria to consider include:
  • Experience in managing projects
  • Mastery of the project management process and tools
  • Ability to dedicate the time necessary for project success
  • Attention to detail
  • Obsession with achieving objectives on-time and on-budget
  •  Ability to communicate, orally and in writing
  • Skills and experience managing and influencing people including those who are not direct reports
  • Ability to juggle multiple responsibilities
  • Flexibility—Tenacity—Patience

Choosing the right PM is essential to project success. Choose wisely and you dramatically improve the chances that your next project will come in on-time, on-budget and with the anticipated results.

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