Accidents Will Happen

Did you choose your job or did it choose you? The sheer number of project management certifications and degrees confirms the interest in project management as a profession. And PMI continues to report sizable gains in its membership each year. But there also remains a vast population of so-called “accidental project managers” — individuals who were tapped on the shoulder one day and charged with managing a project or two along with the day job.

In fact, a recent ProjectsAtWork poll found that 73 percent of people who describe themselves as project professionals do not have a PMP. In other words, they’re not officially certified to manage projects, but they sure as heck do.

I’m sure many accidental project managers — “APMs” — see the responsibility as an opportunity, an exciting challenge with potential career rewards. I’m sure many others view it as an unwelcome burden at best, a lose-lose situation at worst. In either case, if this is your situation, the job of project manager chose you. That probably means you are now operating on the perimeter of your comfort zone, if not completely outside it.
Hopefully, you were chosen to oversee the project for a reason, be it technical experience or familiarity with a similar effort. If your comfort zone happens to be rolling up your sleeves and “just doing it,” all else be damned, then no one can realistically expect you to become a master of motivating other people overnight. If, instead, you were tapped on the shoulder because you have an ability to inspire people but don’t know what P-M-B-O-K stands for, then you can’t be asked to invent much less implement a new five-stage lifecycle to save the day.
And there are dozens of other mismatched skill set scenarios that can intimidate or ambush even the most enthusiastic accidental project managers. No wonder projects fail.
Still, if you are in a situation where you’ve been asked to manage a project without so much as an introductory course on risk or a used copy of Project Management for Dummies, take comfort. There are thousands of project managers with advanced degrees and 20 years in the trenches who will tell you a little secret: they’re often still winging it, too.
And though the seasoned project managers have had successes and been able to replicate them with strong practices and lessons learned, they also have suffered failures, failures that can be attributed to lack of support, time and direction. So if that sounds familiar, it’s not because you’re an accidental project manager. Welcome to the profession.

Aaron Smith, Editor,


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