This completes thoughts posted on April 25, 2011 at JimMillikenProject.blogspot.com
Working hard gets a lot done, and the worker has the right to take pride in the results. Sometimes it requires learning difficult things, an achievement that earns the admiration of co-workers. Hard work is likely to draw the interest of influential people, as well as the assignment of additional work.
A frequent result is promotion, sometimes into the role of project manager.
That’s when the trouble starts. The very skills and practices that make for a superb individual contributor can make that person an ineffective manager. High-performance workers are characterized by subject-matter expertise, high personal quality standards, focus, discipline and steadfast devotion to getting tasks down.
Managers, and certainly project managers, have an entirely different role. They are responsible for getting other people to do stuff. Their stakeholders look for the most efficient use of resources to reach the desired level of quality as consistently as possible.
A most prominent feature of the situation is the dependency of the manager upon factors he/she cannot control. The stakeholders who do own the resources – for project team members, that includes their labor – generally have agendas and priorities that compete or conflict with those of the project, no matter how vital their support is to the work of the project manager.
Few individuals, however accomplished, have the capacity to move smoothly into the role of manager. Few organizations take the transition seriously. Many seasoned managers never manage really well because of their early experiences in management.
The considerable jolt a person usually feels in the introduction to management comes in two major ways: Practical and psychological. The combination frequently drives the person into survival mode, and the skills of survival are not the skills of management.
In the area of working skills, survivors succeed by protecting themselves from danger. Managers succeed by directly and skillfully engaging challenges. The nuts-and-bolts practices of the two are significantly different, and are learned differently.
Psychologically, the newly-appointed manager often suffers a shock that can be immediate, ferocious and long-lasting.. As a confident, accomplished individual contributor, the person had become unaccustomed to the frustration and embarrassment of making frequent, serious mistakes. Now they are coming fast and furious and, in this new management position, they are more damaging, painful and widely noticed.
The person’s response to the psychological issues must come right away, and it often blocks the skill-building process that is less urgent, but more important – and more demanding of a difficult learning effort on the new manager’s part. Many never make it, remaining forever limited to the cautious, self-directed, risk-averse behavior that keeps them from discomfort.
The syndrome is typical of any field of management, but is most damaging in project management. The very nature of the leadership necessary in project work is to assertively anticipate performance shortfalls of all kinds, and act promptly to forestall or resolve them. The leader must be confident and courageous as well as competent.
Personnel problems and conflict management can be among the most difficult matters for the project manager, but equally important are productivity/time management, planning and persuasion. When fear and avoidance are the basic motivators of the manager’s decision-making, there is no hope of skillful practice of the skills of management excellence.
All that being so, what’s the answer?
Everyone concerned must recognize that management is a fundamentally distinct set of practices and behaviors. Good workers rarely become good managers without a thoughtful preparation process as they work into the new responsibilities.
The job must be properly defined and organized to meet its true requirements: Establishing and maintaining effective relationships with all appropriate stakeholders; obtaining the authority and the resources to get the job done; and managing process and people both efficiently and effectively.
Succeeding in management entails being clear on what is required to achieve a specifically-defined outcome, setting up systems that can make that happen, and then ensuring competent management until the desired result has been accomplished.
There is no secret to success.