Be the CEO of Your Projects

Be the CEO of Your Projects

When I worked for thePlatform as a Senior Technical Project Manager in their Consulting Services group, their CEO at the time, Jamie Miller, made his expectation of his project managers clear: You are the CEO of your projects. The concept presents project managers with a double-edged sword that grants both the luxury of freedom to manage projects as seen fit without the burden of micromanagement, and an increased accountability for projects’ success. When I first heard this I admit it sounded corny, but over time it made more and more sense. It allows project managers to embrace one of the most basic and important PMBOK concepts, which is that project managers need to assume full ownership of a project.

What does it really mean to be the CEO of your project? Consider the top hit of a Google search on “CEO responsibility.” It’s Sterling-Resources’ definition which says CEOs are “ultimately responsible for all day-to-day management decisions and … [act] as a direct liaison between the Board and management of the Company”. These responsibilities translate well to the smaller world of a project manager and his projects. While the CEO is responsible for day-to-day management decisions for a company, the PM has the same responsibilities for her projects. Replace the words Board and Company above with Stakeholders and Project and the CEO’s liaison work adapts nicely to the communication responsibilities of a project manager to stakeholders.

The phrase “ultimately responsible for all day-to-day management decisions of a project” is a paraphrase of how the PMBOK describes the role of a project manager. Section 1.7.1 of its fifth edition states the project manager’s role is to satisfy task, team, and individual needs using competencies in project management knowledge, effective performance, and interpersonal skills (future PMP test takers, take note). These requirements and skills are used daily by PMs. If you consider yourself the CEO of a project, then you own its success or failure and all communication. It allows you to use your skills to manage the magic triangle of scope, schedule, and cost. You get to determine what tools to use or not use. You establish a communication plan and meeting cadence. You manage change and everything else required to complete the project. You own the project, the challenge, and the fun. This is where project managers experience the joy of getting tasks done and delivering a project with a team. It enhances the end satisfaction that draws project managers to their profession.

Being dubbed the CEO of a project also poses challenges. Sometimes things don’t go as planned and you need help. That’s OK. That’s what your manager or others in management are for, to council and assist when necessary. Consider them your board of advisors. As an example, I once had a team member who often dropped the ball on scheduled deploys for a high profile customer. Being in a matrix organization, this person didn’t report to me so I didn’t have authority to speak to him as a manger. I consulted with Jamie and he briefly reminded me of the “CEO of your projects” concept and encouraged me to work with the team member as if I was a CEO. This helped bolster my confidence to diplomatically meet with the problematic team member and say what I felt needed to be said. From that point forward he flawlessly carried out the remaining deploys on the project.

While I anticipate most project managers welcome being a CEO of their projects, understand it’s not a concept endorsed by everyone. During an interview with the (actual) CEO of another company I mentioned that being asked to assume the title “CEO of my projects” helped me get my job done. While I was given an offer, I also received feedback that he found the idea of being the CEO of a project unrealistic and unpractical. I suspect he is not alone and that the idea of transferring near complete ownership of projects to a project manager could be difficult for some.

I propose that all project managers should try on the CEO hat for their projects. It doesn’t need to be advertised, though having a conversation with your manager about it could express initiative, desire, and drive. It’s as simple as giving yourself a mental affirmation that you own and are responsible for as many aspects of your projects as possible. Work with your team as a CEO works with a company. Champion your project to your stakeholders and clients as a CEO does to a board. It will pay dividends in job satisfaction, growth, and confidence which will all help with the success of your projects.

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