Is Project Manager An Actual Title?

Is Project Manager An Actual Title

Apparently, “Project Manager” means different things to different people.

I came across a post in my LinkedIn feed from a PM from Bahrain, Eman Deabil, who sparked a healthy debate about whether “Project Manager” is a real title and “Project Management” is a real profession.

The crux of Eman’s argument is that project management is actually a set of interrelated skills that need to be developed by the person who is in charge of managing a project. These skills differ depending on the project, and especially depending on the industry in which the project will take place. For example, managing a project in IT requires a separate set of competencies than a project in the eLearning space.

No PM is One Size Fits All

Eman cites her concerns with the current PMP certification process, which she feels assumes that people who obtain this credential can go on to successfully coordinate a project in any industry. She simply doesn’t think this is the case. A Project Manager must not only have project management skills, but also the appropriate academic credentials and experience in the industry at hand.

Project Manager, she says, isn’t even a genuine title. Rather, titles related to project management should be much more descriptive – for instance adding details on the person’s line of business or type of project (e.g. Project Manager in Supply Chain). Instead of being asked to choose whether they are principally involved in project management or learning and development, for instance, professionals being considered for new positions should say they are “Project Managers in Learning and Development.”

I see Eman’s point, although I do think that transferable skills – or those that are appropriate across a wide range of industries and roles – are especially useful when it comes to project management. No matter what industry or business line you manage projects in, you’d better know how to lead disparate teams, coordinate multi-functional activities, manage timelines and budgets, monitor and report on progress, and analyze results. [Learn how to create a “GPS” for your own projects today at 2 PM. Or sign up for the OnDemand Recording.]

 What Comes First, the Chicken or the Egg?

Can a Project Manager get certification (or obtain essential PM knowledge in another way) and then master the technicalities associated with a particular field, or must the field knowledge be present first, before someone can learn to be an effective Project Manager? Is it truly possible for Project Managers to easily switch industries as long as their PM skills remain intact and up-to-date? There doesn’t appear to be a clear cut answer.

Among the audience of PMs on LinkedIn, some people agree with Eman while others vehemently disagree. Says Ali Al Noory, a PM and training and development manager: “I’ve managed construction projects as well as training projects, and there are limited general skills that can be used for both. However, the industry knowledge is a must, and many of the skills associated with it are non-transferable.”

Samer Abdel Maksoudat, Ali Bin Technology Solutions counter-argues: “The project manager is the Maestro – he can’t play all the instruments himself but he is necessary to deliver a successfully concert.” Adds Mohammed Abu Shammalah at Turner Construction Company: “From the experience I have dealing with lots of PMs, I can say that a PM is not required to understand all of the technology related to the industry because he already has within his team qualified technical people.”

Based on the trajectory of your own PM career, what do you think?

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  • ProjectLeader

    “For example, managing a project in IT requires a separate set of competencies than a project in the eLearning space”. I agree; an IT Project is a very special animal.

  • ProjectLeader

    “Eman cites her concerns with the current PMP certification process, which she feels assumes that people who obtain this credential can go on to successfully coordinate a project in any industry. She simply doesn’t think this is the case. A Project Manager must not only have project management skills, but also the appropriate academic credentials and experience in the industry at hand”.
    I absolutely agree with Eman. She has voiced my worst nightmare. I have worked with Project Managers who were PMPs and they were the worst I’ve seen in my 3 decades as an IT Technical Project Manager. Most of these project managers end up as Social Directors on a project that they have willingly handed over to the Tech Lead at which point the project takes a steep nose dive.

    • Proj Eng

      I work for a PM who does exactly that. Hand over the Tech Lead to a couple of tech people, the rationale I do not know. When things started to get heated, to save face with the customer I have to jump in and gather information from every tech person to understand where we realy are. At this point the tech people are frustrated and they won’t co-operate to the optimum level, the client is frustrated, the higher managment also steps in… not a good project to work in..

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  • Jules

    Project management requires some competencies over the subject. While I don’t need to be the technical expert, I at least should know the high level overview of what we are trying to accomplish. Otherwise, how do I know what I don’t know? How do I lead a team and ask good thought provoking questions unless I know my subject. I might not know how to code in languages but when a programmer explains something to me about any complexity, I should be able to have a mental picture and suggest alternatives way of thinking/processing? Some IT people find that frustrating that I ask detail questions and reframe the problem, but hey, a good PM knows his/her stuff. Experience through many projects teaches me a lot of things.

  • As it relates specifically to the PMP, having one does not equate to an excellent (or even good) project manager. The same is true of any certification; just because you’re certified in something doesn’t translate to being an excellent whatever that you’re certification covers.

    In terms of “do you need industry knowledge to be a good project manager,” the answer is more nuanced.

    I’ve project managed software development, IT projects (infrastructure), delivering products and services to a customer based on a contract, and other types of projects.

    Would I feel comfortable being the project manager building a skyscraper? Nope.

    While all project managers need skills to lead teams, find and resolve problems early, and organize tasks and resources, one is a much more effective project manager if one understands the business environment for the project.

    What that means is you can be effective and learn the business if, for example, your current work is delivering projects in operations. If your business operation is in finance, it’s not a big stretch to go into healthcare. You have products, orders, order fulfillment, financial needs — just different terms for the same functions with different regulations thrown in. There is a learning curve – but it is nothing compared to delivering a skyscraper.

    Where the business knowledge helps is in identifying small problems that, if not tamped down on quickly, will result in the project blowing up. It’s much easier to see those types of problems early on with the business competency.

    The other big area where it helps is communications. The PM communication role is pretty big and being able to communicate progress and problems in the right terminology is critical to both the team and the client to successfully understand what is happening on the project.

    So, as in most things, it depends.