Project Management Institute

Dealing with professional immaturity


by Neal Whitten,PMP, Contributing Editor

An astonishing thing happened to most of us after preparing for a job in the business world: We didn't properly prepare. What's worse, we didn't realize it for years.

The handholding in our “I‘m-not-responsible-for-my-own-actions” world is having a devastating impact on the workforce. While students learn technology skills, they lack the business skills based on “soft” areas like accountability, resourcefulness and leadership. (See “First and Foremost: Mind Your Own Business!” PM Network, July 2000.)

These familiar examples of employee beliefs or actions indicate professional immaturity:

image Believes that effort is more important than results

image Waits to be asked to work overtime when it is necessary

image Expects management or others to initiate needed change in areas that affect own work output

image Complains rather than constructively works issues to closure

image Avoids escalating issues that are at an apparent impasse

image Brings problems to senior management without any recommendations for solutions

image Believes that commitments are transient

image Waits to be blessed with empowerment and authority by a higher-up before taking it

image Delays in asking for help when needed

image Doesn't take accountability for own actions


Neal Whitten, PMP, president of The Neal Whitten Group (, is a speaker, trainer, consultant and author. His books include The EnterPrize Organization: Organizing Software Projects for Accountability and Success [Project Management Institute, 2000]. Comments on this column should be directed to

image Thinks that the grass is greener at the next company

image Looks out for the company at the expense of own domain of responsibility

image Believes that boss is responsible for the employee's career.

When employees have not learned what it means to be professionally mature, managers must teach them. However, all too often, these managers either demonstrate similar professional immaturity or place a higher priority on work other than their key assignment: nurturing their employees. (See “Duties of the Effective Resource Manager,” PM Network, December 1999.) The result is a tremendous burden on project managers—in addition to planning and executing a successful project, they must spend the time and energy to teach their team members what constitutes proper behavior.

You may be thinking, “It's not fair for me to perform the job that the managers aren't accomplishing.” In the real world, it's not about what's fair, it's about results. If you want a winning project, then you must deal with the people side of issues. By all means, work with managers where appropriate; however, ineffective managers are not an excuse for project failure.

Many companies believe that their most important asset is their employees, but this is not precisely true. A company's most important asset is its leaders. If a company has mediocre leaders and the best staff, it will be doomed to mediocrity. With the best leaders and mediocre staff, that same company will be a formidable force. Why? Because employees rise to the expectations of their leaders—companies with the best leaders will ultimately have the best employees.

Project managers are leaders and, therefore, teachers. (See “Duties of the Effective Project Manager,” PM Network, September 1999.) When unsure how to proceed with a soft issue, seek counsel, but avoid doing nothing. (See “What Good is a PM Mentor?” PM Network, April 1999.) Professional maturity of project members will improve based on your acknowledgment of this pervasive problem and willingness to become part of the solution. Now, go make a difference!

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.

PM Network August 2001



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