Inarticulate ramblings of a management consultant

the day to day experiences of a consultant operating in weird and wonderful client situations

The cult of the heroic project manager

The cult of the heroic project manager

I’ve spent a lot of time with a particular client this week and was reminded of the extraordinary nature and power of the heroic project manager species.

Let’s define them for a minute…they live and breathe projects, they turn a rather dull programme management reporting task into a real, living document which gives insight. When they engage with a stakeholder, they do an extraordinary thing…they operate at an incredible level of detail with an almost telepathic memory of meetings, commentary, water cooler chat whilst in a heartbeat being able to turn the same insight to the overarching business imperative, seamlessly relating the one level of detail to the overall objective. They communicate at a personal, empathetic and intuitive level so that those that are engaged by them feel that only they are receiving this level of attention. They cajole, entreat, shamelessly beg for and receive precious resource or time. They have an incredible network that enables them to deliver. Nothing seems to disturb the calmness which they project or indeed that total and unreserved confidence which they display.

This client told me that the most important part of the criteria he used for the selection of projects was the project manager who was going to deliver. In other words, the business imperative was a secondary dimension to the selection of the person responsible for implementation. For a moment, I was incredulous and he was too when he thought of the implications behind this decision making criteria…it’s something that’s preoccupied me over the last few days. Two quite contradictory thoughts go through my head:

1. How can you possibly determine whether to approve a sizeable investment on the basis of who the project manager is as the primary criteria? Surely the primary criteria has to be return, impact, risk, alignment with business initiatives / strategic direction before we get to anything as messy as implementation?

2. How can you possibly determine whether to approve a sizeable investment without first and foremost considering whether it’s implementable or not. Surely the primary criteria have to be likelihood of success; sponsorship and project management are the only criteria to consider.

You see why I’m confused? And before we go there, I know the answer is a bit of both…the classic consultant’s response!

If we take a more intuitive approach, perhaps there’s a degree of self-selection going on here…the heroic PM simply uses his / her analytical and intuitive intelligence to select the project with the greatest chance of success based on his relationships with the stakeholder, knowledge of the barriers that exist internally, business priorities and cultural sensitivity to the organisation.

The 60 thousand dollar question is how can we make more of these heroic PMs? How can we create a whole army of them so that all those projects in our increasingly project / programme driven corporate world can be delivered on time, in scope and to budget?

And maybe that’s the problem…by trying to replicate, we take away their uniqueness / their authenticity and therefore their ability to deliver.

Herding cats…!

Categories: Change management, Consulting, Human Capital, Project Management

Tags: , , , , ,

6 replies

  1. I had a very interesting conversation with a friend and fellowing Project Manager about this blog over the weekend…he commented that I should also make mention of the ‘unheroic’ project managers that make the world go round….in particular those that work regularly over weekends and late into the night to complete their important work…he has a good point!


  2. Hi
    Nice job, I liked the idea of quality as the common currency. Primary criteria have to be a likelihood of success project management are the only criteria to consider. Project managers can use the methodologies of PM for successfully complete the projects. It has to be gallant.

    Liked by 1 person


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