Demystifying the folklore of the accidental project manager in the public sector

To improve its operations, public sector organizations are increasingly implementing projects as a way to realize objectives and adopting project management as an way to improve their efficiency in managing projects. Despite these advancements, the public sector--in general--too often selects its project managers from technical and managerial personnel, subject-matter experts who often lack the experience and the training needed to effectively manage projects, individuals who also known as accidental project managers. This article examines the findings of an e-mail survey showing how well 46 accidental project managers--working within the Western Australian public sector--are performing in their roles as project managers. In doing so, it overviews the field's literature on the challenges that accidental project managers typically face; it defines three sets of skills that accidental project managers need to develop and identifies three types of support that organizations can provide to help these individuals gain the knowledge and develop the skills they need to function effectively. It details four types of support mechanisms that organizations can use to help accidental project managers. It describes the authors' methodology for surveying individuals who were promoted to project manager roles despite their not having experience as project managers or training in project management. It then analyzes the survey results, discussing the factors that the respondents' organizations used to select project managers. It also reports how the respondents viewed their own competency in managing projects as well as their perceptions about the skills and knowledge they need to successfully manage projects and the organizational support that project managers need to effectively lead project teams. It summarizes how survey respondents perceive the way their organizations support and value project management.
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