With any project planned, there are factors which determine its success. These can be broadly classified as: how success is judged (success factors) and the factors contributing to the success (success factors). The link between these two critical success factors lies in the role and the effectiveness of the project manager plays from the planning stage to executing the same.
When such importance is placed on the project manager, it is no surprise that there has been a lot of theory written about the role of a project manager and how best to achieve project success. These have been mostly written by project managers, thereby lending a practical element to academic writing.
The essay begins with a discussion about the importance of competence for a project manager to fulfil his / her role and goes on to list the various roles that a project manager needs to play in order to bring a project to its successful conclusion. Practical examples have also been incorporated in the essay where relevant in order to shed more light on these areas.
Project Manager Competence
The most critical behavioural aspect of a project manager for success of any project big or small is competence (Lynn, 2000), a quality which due to its inherent nature tends to be very difficult to quantify. Hence it can be seen in the research undertaken in this area that the development of standards for measuring the level of competence tends to be heavily based on the opinions of executives with project management expertise and other people working in similar areas in contrast to other qualities which could be easily quantified by academicians (Lynn, 2000). The initial interest in the role of a project manager and the impact of the particular aspects of competence in this role can be said to have originated in an article by Gaddis (1959) in the Harvard Business Review and the ideas in this were taken forward by an article by Lawrence and Lorsch (1969) in another Harvard Business Review article aptly titled ‘New management job: the integrator’. From those days of infancy, this subject area has received a lot of attention and a lot of management texts have been written in this area (Kerzner, 1998; Dinsmore, 1993; Meredith and Mantel, 1995; Turner, 1993 and Pinto, 1998) in addition to featuring in magazines (Dewhirst, 1996) and most importantly sparingly in scholarly journal articles (Einsiedel, 1987) as mentioned before. All of these works have been focussed on the important aspects of what it takes to become an efficient project manager. With the probable exception of organization structuring, organizational support and team selection, most of the factors required for performing as an efficient project manager call directly upon the competence skills of the project managers (Lynn, 2000).
One of the most important areas that a project manager’s role involves is Stakeholder Management which not only encompasses stakeholder issues that are external to the parent company, but also in more increasing instances client organizations which can most probably include issues of environmental and political importance (Lynn, 2000).
The importance of stakeholder management cannot be over emphasised especially for success in the areas of engineering and construction projects. This can be evidenced by the remarkable increase in the requirement communication, team selection and strategic direction and the decrease at the same time in the importance given to technical performance, especially post 1995. This development is of high interest and is also at least in part attributable to the requirement of applying the skills relating to project management way beyond its engineering and construction origins (Campobasso and Hosking, 2004).
Organizational support, due to its inherent features is a factor which can be easily addressed by people who are not the project manager, whereas at the same time any effective project manager can easily be expected to understand the fact that the support of the company or organisation is essential in order to improve the chances of project successes and that the use of inter – personal and other people skills can be used to easily achieve it. In the same way, any efficient project manager can easily exert his / her influence over not only the manner in which the project teams are structured but also most importantly in the manner to which it relates to the organisational structure of the parent company and other stakeholders (Lynn, 2000).
Team Selection is an aspect which draws together the various factors which relate to not only the capability, but also most importantly the experiences of the project managers and even more importantly the team that is chosen for the project. Hence this is a factor that can be directly attributable to the competence required in the area of project management (Lynn, 2000).
It is extremely interesting to note that Leadership, which is a factor that can be related almost solely to the personality characteristics or special attributes appears very frequently in the highest rankings as required by a project manager to be one of the most important competence factors, whereas it appears no-where near the top priorities, the factors related to the success of the projects in a study conducted by Lynn (2000). Hence it can be considered to be another role that a project manager needs to fulfil.
Team Development is another important role that needs to be fulfilled by the project manager the importance of this can be gauged by the importance given to it as a part of the project manager competence factors.
As discussed earlier, competence is a highly subjective area and hence performance based competency standardsare often used to describe what the role expectations from a project manager are and also the levels of knowledge and the levels of understanding in their areas of expertise that is needed in order to underpin this role of a project manager at the specific level of competence. As competence is a socially generated concept (Burgoyne, 1993) it was imperative that the various studies in this area which have endeavoured to delve into the deep end and try to identify these high performance competencies (Boyatzis, 1982; Schroder, 1989; Cockerill, 1989) have encountered severe difficulties in the identification of either the best or even the most effective performers. Boyatzis (1982), in his study of general managers and project managers has suggested the following three types of performance measures to measure the job performance of the project managers –
- Management nominations and ratings
- Peer nominations and ratings
- Measures of Work-output.
According to Wagner (2006) a bigger picture of the whole project needs to be taken in order to manage the project work, which usually includes a basic start with planning of the day and then going to coordinating people and other projects. The project manager has the important task of trying to translate the vision and mission of the organisation that has given birth to the strategic plan into a breakdown of daily activities, while at the same time trying to balance the conflicting and at the same time extremely important needs of the tens of different customers.
The project manager is also responsible for the setting up of appropriate limits towards the investment of both time and money in respect of each and every part of a task and the larger project as a whole (Wagner, 2006). Managers in charge of the projects also need to construct personal networks with the other departments that have the ability to attain the status of internal and external nervous systems of the project and the organisation as a whole through which information can flow back and forth and as a result can help build an information structure to help the completion of the project (Campobasso and Hosking, 2004).
In the view of Fisher et al (1992) needed to satisfy three important roles i.e. of a politician, a coordinator and at the same time an expert researcher as well. These three crucial areas of skills so essential to the role of a project manager are often known by the terms “task orientation,” “management orientation,” and “leadership orientation.” These combine together and are referred to by Wagner (2006) as the organizational map. When analysed superficially, these can be seen to correspond to the hierarchical structure present in most of the organizations. This structure is made up of various parts of the organisation that the project manager needs to interact with in order to bring the project to a successful conclusion and can be split into the frontline which includes not only the technical, but also the professional areas; supervisors including managers; and decision-makers at the executive level. When this structure and its associated parts are looked at in practical project management references, they usually refer to different points of view about the work that is at hand and needs to deal with as a matter of great urgency. Each and every set of these skills can be used to effectively define any particular frame of time in the past, present, future or even as a combination of the three.
According to Fisher et al (1992) every project manager must investigate the following questions in order to be at ease with his / her role in the project. Which set of skills is your natural habitat? In which areas of expertise are you most productive and you feel the most comfortable? And which are the areas of expertise and the skill sets that you need to learn in order to further develop them? All of these three questions are necessary for the success of the project and the organisation as a whole.
The task orientation part of the three pronged strategy is about focussing on the short time horizon, which roughly translates into focus on the tasks which are right in front of you. If the project manager is most comfortable in the present and the tasks at hand, it is a good sign as this means that the project manager is detail – oriented and at the same time reactive. This is an essential attribute of any project manager as this implies that he / she is a self-starter who can easily focus on the job and has a mentality to fix things which is extremely important in the day to day running of any project (Hill, 2003). Task orientation should not be taken as implying a lack of experience or even education and many examples of highly task-oriented people can be found amongst the hordes of file clerks, support staff or even a cataloguer who is working with original documents. It is always extremely important for the project manager to at the same time keep an eye on the bigger picture as it is extremely important in order to manage the workload, which usually includes mundane activities such as planning of his / her day. A project manager also needs to be careful of the fact that he / she could be finding themselves too busy due to the adrenaline high that they get from dealing with the situations. The project manager should hence stick to their roles and should not succumb to the temptations as this leads to situations where they have very few options when the more than one project begins to fall apart. Hence managing the different projects is an important part of the role of a project manager (Wagner, 2006).
The management orientation role of a project manager consists of two main characteristics. The first and the most important one is that a good project manager needs to be a good communicator. If the project manager has the aptitude for management, the project manager needs to have the Midas touch in respect of great interpersonal skills, which will enable him / her to elicit the best performance from not only his / her own team, but also from other people in the organisation as the project manager will be able to earn their trust as well as their respect. For project manager working without a team it means the necessity of checking in with the other employees ever so often in order to share information and also to ask some questions about the current projects and most importantly to invest the time in building workplace relationships (Campobasso and Hosking, 2004).
Wagner (2006) illustrates this trait with the example of Gale who is an independent information broker and whose clients are spread out all over the United States of America as well as entrepreneurs, who are not particularly known for their virtue of patience. However by learning how to effectively become a partner in the venture; the clients see him more as a member of their own team and not just another vendor outside the team. Gale has also used this skill in order to teach his clients enough about the magic of good referencing with the result that they can now trust him whenever he informs them that a project is most probably going to take almost a month and not a week as mentioned earlier and that if the clients want the data in a hurry, the data might not be really good and will come at a premium.
As a result of having these negotiations with the clients before any signs of a crisis means that the customer mostly likely to adhere to Gale’s advice when things go wrong. Everyone and not just Gale, has had to learn to pause in order to maintain this crucial sense of perspective. It can be easily seen that these types of good communication skills can be highly infectious and that this management point of view is another way in order to manage the up building of the lines of communication with the other stakeholders over whom the project manager can exert no power (Fisher et al, 1992).
The second important area of skills required by any project manager in relation to management skills is efficient allocation of resources allocation i.e. the art of juggling good quality, budget (money and other tangible resources) and speed (deadlines and perceived convenience) while coordinating any project. Each and every project and each and every interaction with any client has ideally an agreed upon ratio relating to these three bottom lines and these ratios are usually referred to as the expectations of the project (Wagner, 2006). Hence it becomes vital to build the networks within the organisation as discussed earlier as if the project manager has a good relationship with the customer or another co-worker and has similar values, the project manager along with his / her associate will in most probability set these ratios sub consciously (Hill, 2003). Project managers with adequate qualifications and experience also need to be alert to the fact that perfectionism especially regarding quality can lead them to micro manage the project and hence lead them to spend a lot of their own resource which is really expensive for the project. This will not help the project to run within the budget and could also be detrimental to the project (Campobasso and Hosking, 2004). In order to counter this trend the project manger should have leadership orientation as discussed below and should be able to delegate effectively in order to help the team members gain valuable experience as well.
Leadership in the view of Hill (2003) is about taking risks with a view on the future. The project manager needs to look two or more years down the line and accordingly make decisions regarding investment in long-term relationships with various contacts that will be of help during difficult times. A typical example of this happening is when the project manager is assigned to complete a project requiring collection of data from all over the organisation, but the project manager is not given any authority in order to collect this data.
When the deadlines for the set tasks or the whole project goes by, with the project still not completed, the project manager can often feel very angry and fearful of the management. Hence, it is important to remember that if the project manager had done his / her political homework, the project manager would have had the personal influence to easily get the job done within the time frame. Therefore this is an extremely important part of leadership and the role of leadership orientation as, even if the project manager did not have the clout to get the project completed, he would be able to use this network to gain those contacts to bring the project to a successful end (Fisher et al, 1992).
The project manager has various roles to play for the success of any project. These roles have to have task orientation, leadership orientation and management orientation (Fisher et al, 1992) in order for the project manager to be able to bring the project to a successful end. Communication and Technical Performance are considered to be some of the most important competence based abilities required from a project manager so that he / she can perform the role of a project manager efficiently and bring the project to a successful end (Lynn, 2000). The roles played by a project manager in any project can be summarised as follows (Campobasso and Hosking, 2004) –
Ensuring that the project is a well conceived one which is financially viable and can be competed within the budget and the time frame, while at the same time is cohesive with the vision of the project.
Achieving the optimal integration of the team members, clients and other external consultants to build an effective network.
Formulating a responsibilities matrix which elucidates both the primary and secondary responsibilities of the entire team right from the start through the planning and execution stages.
Most importantly ensuring that the project is well run, but not actually running it to avoid micro managing the project.