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The value of a project manager: Why a PM is the CEO's best friend

A project manager and the CEO have very similar roles -- which is why they should work together closely in these challenging economic times.

Lawrence Oliva PMP
Lawrence Oliva, PMP

 The severe economic events of the last half of 2008 have placed almost all organizations -- profit, nonprofit and government -- in a very different fiscal position than expected a year ago. To respond to these unprecedented conditions, a CEO needs support from every person in the organization, especially those that can lead teams, make decisions quickly and get assigned jobs done.

These desired traits closely match core project manager (PM) competencies. Not surprisingly, a PM's role is similar in many respects to the role of the CEO.

The CEO and PM manage budgets, provide leadership to teams of people, and are held accountable for achieving results. Each develops plans and activities that support key business objectives deemed important by the organization. Each "sells" their ideas, budgets, schedules and technical capabilities to team members, stakeholders and clients.

The CEO and project manager use their personal credibility and integrity to influence people to do work they may not want to do or have adequate time to do. Each uses their knowledge of human behavior, their experience with motivation, and their personal intuition about accepting facts on face value. Each applies their technical knowledge to confirm expected software performance capabilities, to ensure products meet planned quality levels, and to determine realistic schedules.

The CEO and PM usually understand the limits of their influence, the constraints of their instructions and the legalities of their decisions. Each has the backbone to withstand withering criticism, unneeded commentary or uncomfortable honesty. And each bears the emotional weight of errors, omissions and unintended consequences resulting from best intentions gone askew.

Of course, there are differences between the roles. The PM is not able to sign contracts, is not a member of the executive team, and is not involved with the entire organization. The CEO has overall corporate responsibility to the board and shareholders, develops long-term strategic plans, and sets the tone of the company culture. The CEO also has financial compliance responsibilities, executive marketing activities and human capital involvement.

So why is a PM the CEO's best friend? In summary: project dedication and personal integrity.

Most senior project managers possess high degrees of project dedication and personal integrity earned through years of trust given by their teams, management teams and clients. In many organizations, senior PMs have totally dedicated their professional careers, financial futures and personal lives to ensuring their projects and teams are successful. Dedication and integrity are desired -- and required -- skills needed to help organizations of all types develop and implement the appropriate products and services required to compete in today's unstable and complex economic situations.

Unplanned circumstances often require a fusion of multiple skill sets to overcome -- or even survive -- very difficult challenges. Senior project managers learned a long time ago how to successfully harness and focus that fusion power for projects. Successful CEOs also learned a long time ago they must delegate tasks to people who know how to get the job done.

It is surprising that despite many similarities, organizational hierarchies have prevented many project mangers from working closely with their CEO. Given the serious economic challenges of today, that relationship needs to change. It is time for CEOs seeking additional technical and organizational leadership support to meet your new best friends: your senior PM staff.

About the author: Lawrence Oliva is a senior consultant and program manager with CH2M HILL, a global engineering and program management company. Based in the Washington, D.C., area, he currently leads midsized to large IT programs for federal government and commercial clients with unique technical challenges that require risk management, earned value analysis, cost/schedule forensics, biometric security and "green IT" implementation experience.

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