Project Manager By Choice or Default?

Perhaps the toughest part of any project is finding and assigning the right project manager. Many organisations promote staff to this role from within the organisation. These people know the company, its ethos and the other staff who are likely to be team members. They are experienced in their current role and looking for a new challenge. What could possibly go wrong? These are the project managers who have acquired this role by default.


The reasons for assigning a project manager role to an individual from within an organisation are sound ones – knowledge of the company, its products and people should by no means be underestimated. But whether that person has the necessary skills to lead a project is not always taken into account and there can be just as many problems with promoting internally as in hiring an unknown, but experienced, person from a different organisation who has specifically chosen this profession.


In fact, does the person interviewing for the role of project manager even know which attributes to look out for in the potential candidates? The skills and attributes required by a truly competent project manager are wide and varied and go far beyond the qualifications they may possess. The attitude, personality and soft skills of the candidate must also be considered but this is often difficult to assess accurately at interview.


So, within an organisation, many project managers still drift into the role or have it thrust upon them because of the growing need within businesses for people to control the work, the budget and the time of the many projects being initiated. These internally promoted project managers tend to come from a purely managerial background or a purely technical background and often lack the skills and competencies required to manage a complex project successfully. So along with the boom in projects has come a boom in the need for training so that these individuals can acquire the necessary skills.


Project management is still a relatively new profession but increasingly, as in established professions such as law or accountancy, professional credentials are available to provide recognition for stages, achievements and milestones on the project management career path.


Many of these relatively recent accreditations recognise (and, indeed, demand) practical experience so they avoid the problems associated with some project management courses where candidates gain a theoretical knowledge of processes and techniques, but lack the practical experience required to fully understand the realities of a real project environment. Because of the considerable effort required to attain these credentials, they are also indicative of a desire to continue within the profession.


The personality traits of an individual are those innate characteristics that are difficult to teach and to learn, yet are key factors in the success of a project. Personal values and motivation also contribute to a project’s success or failure.


Skills, or competencies, on the other hand can be taught and learned – project management, as with many roles, has a basic set of skills required to perform the role effectively, which include attributes such as:


  • ability to lead a team
  • composure
  • motivation
  • conscientiousness
  • management of expectations
  • problem solving



Many of these attributes only come to the fore when an individual is exposed to an opportunity or experience (such as a formal project management course) that enables them to be learnt. Standard definitions of core competencies are published by organisations such as the PMI and their PMP Certification is widely accepted as recognition of professional competence. For those new to project management the APM Introductory Certificate is a good first place to start your training. So project manager by choice or not – perhaps it is innate attributes and opportunities in training and experience that define success, or not.



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