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Recently I joined an employer and was assigned to a company that uses a program management model with projects aligned with a program. This tells you that their projects are rather large. Typically, I work for employers who don’t want to consider programs, let alone projects (everything is operational in nature) and provide little support for their project managers who are acting in the role of program manager. But I digress, while working at this company, I noticed the project managers do 90% of everything. Let me list out the PM responsibilities:

  • Schedule meetings
  • Resolve issues
  • Negotiate, Negotiate, Negotiate
  • Perform financial analysis
  • Schedule meetings
  • Onboard new team members
  • Create document repositories
  • Run down resources to ask about the status of their work
  • Schedule meetings
  • Identify and mitigate risks
  • Manage change
  • Facilitate the change control board
  • Facilitate the change control committee
  • Did I mention schedule meetings?

It seems that most of a project manager’s life is spent in meetings. Either its scheduling, attending, facilitating, and let’s not forget, writing the meeting recap which no one’s reads until someone has to refer to it to perform CYA! PMs could get a lot done if it wasn’t for all the meetings that need to be held to get work done. Why is this? Why are there so many meetings? Some can point to the need for accountability; others can point to the importance of planning; still others can point to the importance of collaboration and transparency. I think there is a larger problem and it is empowerment.  I remember a well-known expert in the project management field who, during a session at a PMI® Global Congress stated that she had asked prominent CEO, COOs, and CIOs, what is the one thing they look for and expect out of a project manager. You know what they mentioned, leadership! And I would agree, with one caveat. In order to have leadership one must be empowered and supported within the organization!

Let’s examine this for a second. Leadership, as defined, by Webster.com is the power or ability to lead other people. The one word that I see in this definition is power. Most project managers do not have the power to lead other people because they are not predisposed to having power. Predisposed, according to Webster.com is to cause (someone) to be more likely to behave in a particular way or to be affected by a particular condition. If you want someone to behave in a certain way one, in charge of others, must give that subordinate the ability to act in a particular way. If a CEO wants a PM to be a leader, the CEO must give the PM the power to act as a leader. Now, some of you may say, but a PM does not necessarily need a CEO, VP, Director, or manager to exhibit power. And I would agree, to a point. I have never in my 20 years of being a project management practitioner, have I seen a PM exhibit power and lead, successfully, without having the support of his/her manager, Director, VP, CIO, or CEO. A PM can have legitimate power if they are in a company where resource report to them directly. PMs can have reward power based on the positive consequences or outcomes that the PM can offer to project personal; or the PM can have coercive power by having negative things happen to project personal. I have seen PMs utilize coercive power and I do not encourage its use. PMs, by creating and getting approval and signatures on a charter document, scope document, or other formal project management deliverables can embody referent or expert power; however, if a CEO, VP, Director, or manager refuses to sign the documents or support the PM, does the PM have power? They may be able to lead, but they do not have power.

Let’s talk about empowerment. In order for one to lead, they must be empowered. Empowerment is an interesting word. According to Webster.com empowerment is to give official authority or legal power to (someone). Wow, when you read that I take it to mean the following: in order for a PM to feel empowered, it must be given to them so they have the ability to lead other people. This isn’t just for a PM, employees must be empowered so they can go and make decisions based on their knowledge and expertise. One reason why there are so many meetings is that employees, and project managers, do not feel empowered to make decisions. One can say that without empowerment, leaders are hindered in their matriculation in a company and therefore are in meetings to ensure CYA in case someone makes a decision that backfires. I would argue that companies have leaders, but those companies don’t empower their employees to so the employees are hindered by their company and they eventually leave their company to become leaders in another company; typically a competitor. There is a saying, leaders are not made, they are born, and some of that is true but I would add this: Leaders can be broken and lose their spirit in dysfunctional and non-supportive companies. Effective leadership needs empowerment. Leadership without empowerment is like some many PMs today, fulfilling the role of a project manager but is unable to make decisions, hold people account, or reward performance.  CEOs, VPs, Directors, or managers need to support and empower their project managers in their jobs; provide them with the tools and training needed and provide constructive feedback on their performance. CEOs, VPs, Directors, or managers need to work with their project managers to get them to excel and once they are excelling, identify others and repeat, repeat, repeat.

Your thoughts?