What is a project manager, or put it another way, what are you? What do you do between 9am and 5pm each working day (and that is on a very good working day)?

The web has a number of definitions of what a project manager is:

  • A project manager is a professional in the field of project management.
  • The person with authority to manage a project.
  • The person responsible for the project.
  • Individual or body with authority, accountability and responsibility for managing a project to achieve specific objectives.
  • The individual in charge of the progress and performance of the project on behalf of the Project Owner.
  • The individual accountable for all aspects of a project.

Ask someone that question and demand a fast answer in return then the chances are that they will reply as follows:

“What is a project manager?”

“Someone who manages projects”

So not a great deal of enlightenment there then; but to be fair it is hard isn’t it? How do we describe to other people, people outside our closed world, exactly what we do and why what we do is so important? And how do we make it all sound exciting (unlike the above definitions), because it is exciting isn’t it?

But it is important

How important?

‘Withone-fifth of the world’s GDP being spent on projects this year clearly business isn’t just about operations anymore. Competitiveness, innovation, talent these are the things you’re worrying about every day’.

That is about $12 Trillion!

That is really important.

How important?

The whole world is challenged that is for sure!

On one hand we faced the Global Recession, with all the impact that this had on people and business, and on the other hand we are a dynamic, resourceful and ever evolving world that demands change as part of its survival. And change demands projects and projects demand project managers.

On one hand we have a history littered with significant project failure, although there have been spectacular successes as well  The Standish Report 2009 clearly shows that history may well be repeated in many cases.

Now is the time that it is even more critical to succeed, and succeed with a higher level of certainty than seen before since those projects that will be commissioned in the future, as well as the ones that are allowed to continue in the current climate, will be expected to deliver higher business impact, be under closer scrutiny from senior management and be under far more pressure to succeed.

And guess what, who will be the one that is under the most pressure, the project manager!

Very important?

So it seems we, the project managers of the world, are pretty important in the scheme of things. Mostly not “life or death” important but still important enough.

So why does it remain so difficult to explain to ‘outsiders’ what we do?

A good statement to remember here is perhaps this one “Project management is a verb; not a noun”

Getting ‘Out of the Box’

Can you name three famous project managers?

If you were asked this question you may well lean towards a number of areas:

  • Science and Art: Leonardo da Vinci
  • Engineering: Isambard Kingdom Brunel
  • Manufacturing: Henry Ford
  • Military: Attila the Hun
  • Cultural: Nelson Mandela

On the other hand you might not.

Brunel stated “I am opposed to the laying down of rules or conditions to be observed in the construction of bridges lest the progress of improvement tomorrow might be embarrassed or shackled by recording or registering as law the prejudices or errors of today.” So he was no fan of rigid discipline but rather allowing for innovation and development.

Da Vinci said “Art is never finished, only abandoned.” So not exactly in line with our project closure theory.

Ford declared “I am looking for a lot of men who have an infinite capacity to not know what can’t be done.” Again a very open and flexible approach is desired.

Attila the Hun probably came up with some great quotes but we don’t have those recorded for posterity (probably stuff around attack and kill mostly).

But why even try to name three famous project managers? Well to demonstrate that most names that you will come up will be famous for other matters and not project management pure and simple.

I know we could probably name three names; I would perhaps suggest Dr Harold Kerzner (IIL), Dr David Hillson (Risk Doctor), and Rita Mulcahy (PMP Prep). I could certainly add to that list, as I am sure you could as well, but the point is that outside of project management these people are unknown.

No one, within our project world, has yet been universally recognized in this day and age. It is all about the project and not the project manager.

Even The Lazy Project Manager ( ) has not yet reached that level of fame.

When will I be famous?

It’s magic

A project manager asks his administrator what two plus two equals. The administrator states in absolute that two plus two equals four.

The project manager then asks his accountant what two plus two equals. The accountant states in relative terms that two plus two equals four plus or minus.

Finally the project manager asks his project controller what two plus two equals. The project controller turns off the lights, walks over and closes the blinds, and sits down by the project manager to say in a whisper, “What do you want it to equal?”

Give a project to a good project manager (supported in all the right ways with sponsorship and resources etc) then “magic happens”.

So then why can’t the skills of the project manager been appreciated by the general public? We should all be famous (if not rich) by now.

Others do it

There is a growing trend in the UK, originating from the US I believe, where children are encouraged to take their parents in to school and get the parents to talk about their jobs.

I have never been asked to go in to my children’s school!

They have had a policeman in who no doubt talked about road safety and not talking to strangers, they have had a nurse in who talked about healthcare issues and how to look after yourself, and they have had a fireman in to explain about the dangers of fires and what to do if you are in such danger. These are all important and seemingly (to children) exciting jobs. But project management is neither apparently exciting nor does it have a uniform (something I note that the people who have gone in to school have in common).

Should we perhaps design a uniform for project managers? We know we are exciting already.

But consider this; we can easily state that ‘doctors make people better’, that ‘policemen catch bad people’, that ‘builders make homes’, that ‘authors write books’, that ‘movie stars make films’ and so on. But we can’t say ‘project managers manage projects’ because that doesn’t tell people anything. We all know what it means but my children don’t, and my friends don’t, and ‘Joe Public’ doesn’t know either.

So this is where we are

The current situation

This can be summarised as follows:

  • We are generally good at what we do
  • We are generally successful in our endeavours
  • We are getting better all the time
  • We do deliver “exciting things”
  • (We are mostly nice people I’m sure)

So how can we get “out of that box” and into the spot light so that the world in general can understand us and what we do?

It is better than you may think

Take this easy test – the numbers no doubt will change all the time but these are the results I got when I tried it (03/12/10).

Google ‘Project Failures’ – I got 33 million hits

Now Google ‘Project Success’ – I got 85 million hits

Encouraging wouldn’t you say?

Google ‘Sad Project Manager’ – I got 1.9 million hits

Now Google ‘Happy Project Manager’ – I got 41 million hits


And if you happen to Google ‘Nurse’ and then ‘Fireman’ and then ‘Policemen’ and add the hits together I got 96 million hits but Google ‘Project Manager’ and I got 205 million hits.

Very nice.

Be proud and be happy

So all in all we have a lot to be both proud and happy about; so let’s be proud and happy about it!

Being a project manager is a great job, whether you intend on pursuing a project management career or whether you intend to move in to a business role within a project based business. Projects should never bore you, they are all different and each day will bring new challenges and interest. You will never stop learning those lessons.

Finally reach out with what you do

Consider doing some or all of the following in order to help yourself (and project management in general) out of the box:

  • Tell people you are a project manager. Don’t be shy; be brave and come clean about your job, you are not doing anything that you shouldn’t be loud and proud of.
  • Have that ‘elevator’ speech ready when people ask you what you do. But whatever you say don’t say “I’m a project manager, I manage projects”. I recently asked the question “How would you explain project management to an Alien from outer space” and one of my favourite answers came from Penny Pullman “Getting something new and exciting done with a group of people!”
  • Speak at non-Project Management events. In my role as The Lazy Project Manager I have more and more begun to speak to groups of people outside project management and you know what? They like what they hear about projects and project management (and project managers).
  • Network with a broad group of people, again outside project management.
  • Start some LinkedIn discussions such as my “Alien” one; you get some great interaction with people from all over the world.
  • Twitter and Blog and Facebook and any and every social networking mechanism that works for you.
  • Offer your services outside of your work, you will find that many volunteer organisations are crying out for your projects skills – even if they don’t know what they are.
  • And finally why not scare your kids and go to that school or college day and talk about your exciting role of being a project manager.

You are a ‘PM Superstar’

I still want to shout to the world about project management and tell about all the great work that we do and I want you to join me in that ‘shouting’ – be loud and very proud of what you do. It is both essential and exciting.

Taking project management “out of the box” will spread the word outside our community about what a great bunch of people we are and how project management is a valuable to skill to pretty much everybody.

You are a PM Superstar (definition ‘someone who is dazzlingly skilled in any field’) so not only get “out of that box” but climb up and stand on it whilst you let everyone know just what you do and what you are.

You are a project manager.

“Tell me and I’ll forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I’ll understand” Chinese Proverb

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