Should Project Managers be Leaders or Administrators?

This is a question I hear a lot when working with the government and private sector. Should project managers be leaders or administrators? This question implies assumptions and spurs additional questions. The assumption is what role the project manager plays within the organization. In reality this role is different in different organizations. Additional questions will need to be asked. For example, what are project manager’s really responsible for? Are they simply providing oversight and management of provided assets, or are they expected to make decisions that go beyond day-to-day activities?

The Difference Between Leadership & Administration
Why don’t we start the conversation by eliciting the difference between leadership and administration? Administration is typically viewed as the management of day-to-day activities. This management takes place within boundaries, scope and requirements that have already been defined. An administrator is expected to ensure that all assets under their care are used effectively and efficiently across the organization. This does not require strategic planning, decision making, or risk analysis. It does require ongoing management of internal and external staff and/or any required partners. This may involve running meetings, delegating work, receiving updates on progress and reporting to upper management.
Leadership would go beyond the roles and responsibilities of the administrator in some key ways. For example, a leader would be expected to be able to look to the future and decide a direction for their work and those under their responsibility. They may also be responsible for involvement in the approval of future projects for the project pipeline. This would require some type of assessment on the viability and health of proposed initiatives and their ability to enhance the organization’s ability to achieve high level goals and objectives. Leaders would also be required to perform guidance on the management and development of employees within the project management community. What employees are needed with respects to the required skills, abilities and aptitudes for future project work? What training will be needed, and/or will the organization need to expand or contract? How will the organization build and maintain strong relations amongst project teams, a sense of community and ultimately, high levels of engagement and productivity? All of these variables require skill-sets that are arguably outside the realm of day-to-day administration of staff and required assets.

Should Project Managers be Leaders or Administrators?
So let’s go back to the question at hand, “Should project managers be leaders or administrators?” Think about your own organization and the required responsibilities of the average pm. I’m not talking about what’s written on job descriptions. I want to know what it really takes to succeed in your organization. If you’re honest, I bet you’ll agree that you probably need a mix of both administration skills and leadership qualities and abilities.

So, what are you doing about it?

Perhaps it’s time to make a New Year’s resolution for 2010! Think about it. What books can you read? What courses can you take? What next steps will you take to develop the required skills and abilities to be successful? Start by mapping out some of the key areas you think you need to develop. Then do a Google search. Did you know that Google now has a section on books? Check it out. They probably have all kinds of books you can read online for free. The only cost is your time and dedication. When you’re ready, you may want to take a course. Make sure it’s the right course. When I say, “the right course!” What I’m talking about is a course that gives you both the learning objectives that you need and the best environment to learn in. I prefer an environment that provides hands-on learning that’s interactive and challenging. Passive learning is for the administrators. You’re a LEADER!

Larry Barnard

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