Best of PM Network 2007 – Competency Versus Connections

PMNetwork_Jul2007OK, I admit it. My selection of this particular feature had a little to do with the fact that I’m in it. So sue me. ūüôā

PM Network does a feature occasionally called “Point, Counter Point” which is essentially a debate between two project managers on a specific topic. They asked me to debate Roland Gareis, Ph.D. on knowledge versus networks in getting ahead as a project manager. I think they are both very important, and they asked me to defend the connections argument.

It was a lively discussion which I enjoyed very much. Dr. Gareis is a great guy, very intelligent and accomplished. For the most part, I think we agreed with each other that both factors are very important, but I lean a little to the social networking side of things as a way to get ahead, whereas Roland leans towards the knowledge and hard-skills side. I think we had to struggle to find points on which to truly disagree though.

One of Dr. Gareis’ points I liked most was the obviously true statement that after you get the job, you have to “put your hands in the mud” and have the competencies required for the job. I agree completely.

There were two points I made which I think stood out. One was a comparison to Herzberg’s motivational theory, and stating that knowledge and education are similar to hygiene factors (required, but not sufficient for excellence), while networking and social skills are motivating factors that can open up opportunities above and beyond what the hard skills alone can do. Since these things work hand-in-hand, it is difficult to truly separate them from each other. Networking can enhance competency, and high levels of competency can create networking opportunities, etc.

The second strong point I made regarded the relative importance of these two factors when finding a new job or going for a promotion. A certain level of competency is going to be required for the job, certainly. The qualifications and experience are what recruiters are writing into position descriptions, after all. Having the right skills on paper may get you an interview. Having been a hiring manager for years, I can tell you that it is very difficult to get a whole picture of a person from any interview process. If someone I know and trust is recommending this person, in addition to the default requirement of being qualified for the job, I am much more likely to have confidence in my decision. There is a built-in system of social incentives in my network. If someone recommends a hire who turns out to be lousy, there is going to be trust lost and everyone knows it. “It’s like making a large purchase on a product. Wouldn’t you rather talk to a trusted friend who has experience with that product than read the sales brochure [alone]?”

Comments are welcome!

Best of PM Network 2007 – Index

About the author

JoshNankivel Josh Nankivel is a Project Planning & Controls Control Account Manager and contractor for the ground system of the Landsat Data Continuity Mission, a joint project between the USGS and NASA. His academic background includes a BS in Project Management, summa cum laude.  He can be found writing and contributing in many places within the project management community, and his primary project management website is located at


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