I caught up with a great friend and long-time senior technical leader the other day over breakfast, and as I was regaling him with my new found interest in everything Project Management, he started laughing. It wasn't just a chuckle. It was one of those long, from-the-gut type of laughs that makes you start looking around because you know that everyone in the restaurant is now staring at your table. And they were.
"Bob, what's so funny about Project Management?" I asked a bit surprised at how much humor he found in the topic.
"Art, don't you know that no one likes those poor b****rds. Developers see them coming and they run the other way. Nag, nag, nag. That's all they do. They want to be in charge of everything, but they don't know the technology and the developers eat them alive," he quipped.
And for icing on the cake, he reiterated his "b" word by describing that every time he meets someone with PMP (Project Management Professional) on their card, all he can think about is, "You poor b****rd." He started laughing again.
With sincere respect for Bob's opinion based on his long experience, I have a few perspectives of my own on the issue.
- The role of Project Manager is difficult. This is an informal leadership position—one of those with most of the responsibility and little of the authority. If a person is worried about being liked, this is a lousy choice of profession.
- Alan Cohen, noted author, speaker and consultant writes about this topic as it pertains to consultants (a significantly more maligned group than project managers) in today's blog, You Love Me, You Love Me Not. This quote fits all PMs yearning to be liked: "This is a business. If you want unconditional love, get a dog. If you want love reasoned with tough feedback at times for your own good, get a mate. If you want 24-hour adoration without surcease, get some LSD." Tough love, but apropos.
- Project Managers (like Consultants) create their own credibility or lack thereof by how they prosecute their roles. I've worked around great Project Managers who got the job done without being technical experts and without quoting the PMBOK (Project Management Body of Knowledge) chapter and verse as the answer to every issue. They solved problems, applied past experience to help us improve and were experts at shuttle diplomacy, wielding their influence fairly and judiciously.
- In many regards, we are still early in the adoption of project management approaches in many businesses, and like most significant innovation in management practices, the process is one of evolution, not revolution. The Project Manager that is maligned today may be a Senior Executive tomorrow.
Great friends and colleagues of mine once penned a list of business rules that they learned from observing and then researching the crews of World War II bombers, especially the crew of the well popularized (in movies and books) Memphis Belle. One of their rules clearly stated that, "If you are taking flak, you must be near the target." Project Managers, don't let a little issue like being liked get in the way of fulfilling your mission. It's OK not to be liked. Now keep the target in sight.