The new breed of Project Managers

Project management is about ownership more than anything else. This is something that I have heard oft-repeated in PM circles. Yet, I find that more and more project managers these days are trying to run around ownership.

As project management drifts away from old-fashioned leadership and becomes a specific niche skill, ownership seems to have taken a back-seat as the prime requirement for this role. Many project managers today play roles that demand co-ordination more than actual leadership. With more and more ambitious projects being undertaken every day, individual project managers are being gradually replaced (or atleast supported) by PMOs, PMAs etc. There is a new, younger, more efficient Project Management Administrator sitting where a PM should have been and doing (at least a part of) what a PM should be doing. The average experience of the members of the PMO is also coming down.
What this new breed of “assistant managers” — for lack of a better designation — is doing is focussing on co-ordination and the PM tool-set. This breed is more rigorous in areas such as financial accounting, scheduling, risk management etc and less bothered about old-fashioned concepts such as leadership, ownership, and people management. More and more companies are looking to fill their actual PM roles with this breed.

So, why is this a bad trend ? I have always felt that a PM needed to have a rigorous grounding in such arcane and painful fields as accounting and scheduling. But lets face it: which individual has the time to do this when he has hundreds of people to answer every day and even more people problems to solve ? It would need a super human to juggle the administrative and people parts of a project (and we are not even referring to those large billion-dollar projects that more and more governments have launched in what we will call the recession years). Sadly, we do not have an abundance of such super humans. So, in a way, the creation of the new breed I mentioned above complements the “leader of the project” PM.
What is concerning, however, is that many of this new breed are not being groomed to become actual leaders when their turn comes. How will this transition happen ? The attitude of most in this new breed is: “I will do my job and tell others how to do theirs. If they can’t do their jobs, it is the PM’s headache, not mine”. While that is an oversimplification, I believe that speaks of the general trend.

So, is there a way to stop this trend ? Is there a way to manage this transition from an administrator to a leader ?
I believe that it is upto the individual to figure out how to make the transition. Like in all other fields, all project managers cannot be leaders. Some part of a leader is always a natural gift while the rest comes from graft. It is for the individual to decide whether the graft is worth the gift they carry with them.
But, I also think delegation is a tool that the PM should use to see if his committee of PMOs and PMAs has it in them.

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