In every company across every industry worldwide, there are always a variety of industry-specific skills and experience that are crucial to success. There is one skill set, however, that is common to all industries, and often plays a far more wide-ranging and necessary role in the nuts-and-bolts operation of a well-run business. It’s a skill set that helps make a functional interdisciplinary team out of a blend of skilled employees, and it’s possessed by professionals known by one umbrella term: project managers.
Project managers play a vital role in just about every business, as they make sure that resources are used with the greatest efficiency and to the greatest effect. Without them serving as governors, business-critical operations can devolve into costly and disorganized affairs, often resulting in poor overall business performance or even business failure. Despite their importance, though, the position of project manager remains poorly understood and underappreciated. If you’re a business owner or manager, here’s what you need to know about these valuable professionals, how you can support their work, and the impact they can have on your business.
The Cost of Poor Project Management
Anyone who has worked in a team of any kind should be able to attest to the value of competent management. Within businesses, this is often reflected in the importance placed on executive-level leadership and middle management roles. Project managers, though, are an oft-overlooked (and oft-missing) part of the day-to-day execution of business imperatives. The cost of their absence, though, is difficult to miss. Statistics indicate that for every billion dollars invested by companies within the United States, $122 million is wasted due to poor project performance. That waste is reflected in a study in 2013 that found that fewer than one-third of projects that year was completed on time and within their original budget. Those are the kinds of inefficiencies and losses project managers can help a business to avoid.
More Than a Title
In practice, the position of project manager is one that requires a very specific skill set to execute well. Despite that reality, business leaders continue to elevate underqualified candidates into project management roles. That’s not always a fatal business decision, as even corporate giants like IBM report that only 56% of their project management specialists hold industry certifications. It does, however, ignore the impact of PMP certification on project outcomes.
Certified project managers, no matter the industry, will all share a common language; an understanding that transcends their specific line of business, thus enabling ready communication both within and outside their own organizations. It also reflects their in-depth knowledge of the fundamentals involved in effectively deploying resources and driving positive results. That means that a certified project manager will have the ability to transition between multiple industries throughout their career, picking up valuable insights that can help their employer think outside the box when confronted with business challenges they may have already seen in previous positions.
The Keys to Innovation
There’s also another, an even less well-understood aspect of the role project managers play in the overall success of a business. In addition to keeping things running well throughout a project’s lifecycle, they also play a key role in enabling business innovation. Today’s businesses rely on innovation as their primary growth engines, and they go out of their way to create cultures to support it. Nothing, however, kills innovation faster than a lack of execution. Project managers serve as a facilitator for business innovators to enable the successful realization of their ideas. Without them, valuable innovations become costly failures, which leads to a stifling of new ideas – and that’s not an outcome that any business wants.
Supporting Project Managers
It’s important to realize, of course, that project managers don’t operate in a vacuum. Even the most qualified and experienced project managers will fail in environments that aren’t conducive to their role. To operate effectively, project managers need direct support from executive leadership to provide the authority and resource guarantees that it takes to execute whatever project they’re tasked with. Since project managers will often be required to form teams that draw personnel from several departments at once, having direct support from the executive level gives them the political heft necessary to issue orders to staff that would otherwise be taking their cues from their organization head of department managers.
The authority granted to project managers by executive managers can’t only work downwards, though. For them to be effective in their jobs, they require the final say in the execution of their project plans, including the power to say no to directives coming from further up the organizational ladder. Otherwise, their work can be fatally compromised by scope creep or fall victim to office politics beyond their ability to control. That’s why it’s critical for executive managers to hand off responsibility to the project manager and then take cues from them as to when further assistance or input is needed.
The Bottom Line
Project managers exist within businesses at the crossroads of innovation, execution, financial management, and efficiency. Without them, many businesses never live up to their true potential or incur significant unnecessary cost and difficulty in the effort. For business owners and managers, they should be known and respected as the indispensable men and women that they are, and every effort should be made to acknowledge and support their efforts at all levels wherever possible. After all, their success, as demonstrated here, is the success of the business and should be seen as such.