To Lead or Not to Lead? A Skilled Project Manager Weighs In

Progject-2Bmngt-2BLF-2BimageOur complex, fast-moving business world relies heavily on project management to tackle major bodies of work. In tech firms, many leaders are specifically titled as project managers – and this title is rapidly expanding to other market sectors. The Project Management Institute *estimates that among seven specified US industries the number of these roles will increase by 15.7 million within this decade.

A growing number of leaders are managing projects in addition to their “day jobs.” As businesses increasingly rely on both titled and untitled project managers, leaders may find themselves in a temporary role for which they are unprepared. Successful projects increase visibility and promotability. However, these “opportunities” may bring myriad risk factors and problems.

If nominated to serve as a project manager for an important initiative, whether (and how) you accept the role will likely make or break your near-term success.

A valued client, Mauro Piloni – Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder of EXEVER S.r.l. – offers project management wisdom. In a previous role, Mauro successfully led a number of technical projects, but experienced an entirely new set of dynamics when tapped to take on an assignment vital to that company’s long-term market leadership. His advice to guide your decision process:

Understand the “why me.” Why were you given this opportunity? There are at least three possible reasons:

  • You’re viewed as a high performer whose upward mobility may be temporarily blocked. For you it’s job enrichment, and for the company it’s a way to drive needed results while retaining valued top talent.
  • You might be seen as a "blocker" for the succession of a high-value colleague, and the company is moving you aside to create a growth opportunity for that person. In essence, the company is placing you one step closer to the exit door.
  • You truly are the strongest candidate, and the company intends to advance your career.

Develop a clear understanding of where the project emanates from. Is this your boss’s pet project, or a mandate from the CEO? Clearly, there is “more in it” for you if the project is broadly understood and supported.

  • Who will you report to? Think through the matrix, as well as what could happen if your primary boss leaves, loses power, or makes this project a lower priority.
  • Set a plan to confirm broad support by meeting with all high-level stakeholders and matrix bosses. If you hear as many descriptions of the project (and related expectations) as there are people, it may foreshadow the project’s doom.

Gauge the organizational climate’s ability to sustain support throughout the lifecycle of the project. Expect that many variables will change during the project, particularly if it is multi-year.

  • Once you start the project, you’re committed for its life. Make sure you gain excellent clarity of the scope and expected outcomes.
  • Understand the forces that drive the need for this project. You may find that others’ definition of the problem differs dramatically from yours. Align those perspectives before embarking. If alignment isn’t possible, suggest an alternative solution to the one envisioned by the company.

“Show me the money” – the project funding, not your salary increase. If you cannot verify that resources are in place to support the lifespan of the project, your risk of failure rises dramatically.

  • Does the project appear on the company’s spending plan? For the right number of years?
  • Are you prepared to adjust your approach and scope as funding waxes and wanes? Who will support your efforts through the project’s anticipated ups and downs?

Make the right decision and move forward. Either you unconditionally accept the project and all it brings (both good and bad), or you decline the offer (while expressing gratitude).

  • If circumstances cannot support success, don’t start the journey.
  • If conditions are right, throw yourself into the project, and focus on achieving your goals while remaining resilient and adaptable. Only full dedication will do.

To learn more about this remarkable leader’s experience and philosophy,
click here. And good luck to you in your decision process (and, hopefully, project)!

*Source: Project Management Talent Gap Report, March 2013, Project Management Institute



(Image: ©IonChiosea/


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