Every so often, I hear theories from team members on how their project manager became effective at leading projects. Sometimes they say something like, "She was born to be a project manager."
This got me to thinking whether some people are naturally predisposed to be project managers, or if they have a specific set of experiences that shapes them to become project managers. It's almost a question of anthropological proportions: Are good project managers born or made?
To help answer it, let us look at some key competencies of project managers and see if these skills are innate or developed over time.
- Functional knowledge. Understanding the fundamental business processes that are added, changed or impacted by a project is an essential competency. An understanding of these business processes allows a project manager to make more effective decisions when it comes to design considerations as well as resolving project issues. But it is a set of skills that one is not necessarily born with. It's typically acquired through training -- many times on-the-job training, for example, in a business process analyst role or a functional role such as manufacturing operator, company accountant or human resources representative.
- Technical expertise. In addition to understanding fundamental business processes, a project manager must also understand the core technologies and supporting tools that enable a successful project outcome. As with functional expertise, we are not born with technical knowledge. Software developer, content designer or software package configuration specialist are just some of the roles where one can accumulate technical expertise.
- Project management experience. Back when I became a project manager, the only real avenue for gaining competency was by serving as a project manager. Today, there are many outlets for gaining exposure to project management in preparation for actually leading a project. Acquiring a certification such as a Project Management Professional (PMP)®, taking training courses on specialized project management practices or serving in a project management office (PMO) role are some examples of professional training opportunities that exist today.
- Leadership. Larry Ellison, the founder of Oracle, once said, "I had all the necessary disadvantages to be successful." Mr. Ellison struggled from modest beginnings to lead a global software company. It is common for project managers to face uncertainty, adversity, conflict and many other challenges every day on a project. Their personal tenacity, durability and creativity can have a large bearing on the overall success of a project. To a great degree, being a leader -- the foundation of a project manager -- is born of our inherited behaviors as well as our early position and experiences in life.
So coming back to the question of whether project managers are born or made, I think both are true. While nobody has yet found a project manager gene, we all seem to be born into a journey that leads us to being a project manager. This journey starts with the skills and behaviors we're born with, and continues with the functional knowledge, technical expertise and professional training we accumulate over time. This essential mix of what we are as well as how we grow is key to becoming an effective project manager.
Do you think you were born to be a project manager or became one over time?