Project Management Institute

Equal footing


Many project managers miss the opportunity to manage executives.


Project managers with the ability to communicate well—especially when addressing executives and project sponsors—always have an advantage. This is especially handy when dealing with executives who believe they don't need to know much about projects or the project management process because, “That's the project manager's responsibility.”

This is true: Project managers take great care of the projects they manage, and executives and senior managers take care of business results and monitor overall business success. But when project managers want to be understood, they must speak the language the other group understands.

It is difficult to put yourself in the shoes of your boss, as it is for your boss to understand your problems as a project manager. Four years ago, I worked in Spain for one of the largest multinational companies in the world. I managed an external customer project with a €10 million budget, 150 workers and four subcontractors. During the project's two-and-a-half-year duration, my senior manager visited the customer only once, and while I met with him monthly, our project status reviews never lasted more than 10 minutes. In all, this manager expressed very little interest regarding the problems I found managing the project.

This type of counterproductive behavior is starting to change. As project management awareness grows in organizations, executives understand the importance and necessity of planning before implementing activities. And who knows more about people, organizational abilities and what it takes to implement a project than a project manager?

Executives need project managers to implement strategy. Project managers can align themselves with executives by finding and focusing on these commonalities:

  1. Ultimately, project managers and executives share the same organizational objectives because they work for the same company
  2. Because more than 75 percent of business activities can be classified as projects, project managers and executives, arguably, have the same impact on business operations and results
  3. The experiences and education of project managers give a company a competitive advantage; wise executives find ways to utilize their experiences to gain an upper hand
  4. Executives and project managers must learn to navigate political climates successfully to ensure results.

It is difficult to put yourseLf in the shoes of your boss, and it is also difficult for your boss to understand your problems as a project manager.

Even with these similarities, executives know only one part of the story: They miss a great deal of insight that comes from dealing with the customer, which is something project managers do all the time. So many organizations tend to focus on project manager development as it correlates to improving project results, but what about educating executives? Isn't there value in teaching an executive about a project's mission, implications and desired effects? The end product is more clearly defined roles and better relationships with project managers.

Unfortunately, project managers often talk to their upper managers only when they run into problems with their projects, and executives don't speak enough with project managers because they perceive them simply as the “doers.” In this paradigm, partnership opportunities are lost, and many organizations fail to become more profitable and successful through project management practices.

Project managers must know, understand and communicate value to the organization. Don't wait until executives and project sponsors ask you about your project's status: Take action and seize the initiative to talk about project work, being persistent and patient along the way. PM

Alfonso Bucero, PMP, is an independent consultant who manages projects throughout Europe and Asia. He is the author of Project Management—A New Vision and contributor to Creating the Project Office.

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