When you’re hired as a project manager, you’re hired to be a leader and liaison. Project managers guide the structure, scope, quality, and budget of a project while also representing the interests of the organization, client, and/or stakeholder(s). Perhaps because of all of the hats project managers wear, there are a lot of misconceptions about exactly what it is we do and how we do it. The myths around project management exist partly due to the increasing number of businesses that are becoming project-oriented. Let’s debunk some common myths around the role of project manager.
Myth 1: All project managers must have a certification
Before I got into project management, I was under the impression that only a person with a Project Management Professional (PMP) certification could be a successful project manager. While a PMP certification is valuable and gives a theoretical view of project management, actual work and management experience is important in this career, too. When I was given my first role as a project manager, I had a bit of “imposter syndrome” until I realized it was my work experience that was most valued, not a particular certification. Working with clients, managing your team, ensuring deadlines are met, allocating tasks and responsibilities, and keeping the project on track are all things that can’t be learned entirely through a certification, but rather through experience.
It is worth noting that getting certified can be a wise move for most experienced project managers, but it isn’t necessarily something someone who aspires to be a project manager should consider a requirement early-on on their career. Many certification programs require applicants to have hours of documented project management experience before beginning the certification process, so if you are a new PM, jump in and get started applying your skills!
Myth 2: Project managers are just paper pushers
Ouch! This is a common misconception perhaps because the more public-facing part of the PM role involves developing project plans, coordinating meeting schedules, providing seemingly countless status updates, and compiling meeting notes.
The real value of a good project manager is in the value he or she adds to meetings and negotiations, as well as through being a mentor and counselor to other team members. Of course, the project manager is the project champion – they go to bat for team members and stakeholders both, and work to make sure the project is a success. The reality is, PMs spend more time communicating with other people than they do “pushing paper.”
Sure, project management perhaps used to be restricted to emails and paper, but sending a few emails and drafting some reports does not make a successful project. Your role as a PM involves project vision, timelines, tasks, and management of the roles and responsibilities of the team. It is so much more than paperwork.
Myth 3: Project Management is all about the process
You’ve likely heard this before. Some people hold the belief that project management is all about the process and not the people, but as previously mentioned, project managers work with people more than anything. Our focus is generally on team members and stakeholders alike.
It is nearly impossible to make a project successful without a well-coordinated team. Even if you have a flawless action plan, you would need skillful and experienced people to implement the plan in the right way at the right time. A good team is as important as – if not more than – a good process for making things work and seeing your project succeed.
Myth 4: Project managers only schedule meetings and oversee tasks
With a big picture point of view, the project manager balances and guides their team members, while defining project requirements and goals to ensure the team executes tasks on time and on budget. So, while there’s certainly some meeting scheduling and overseeing involved, project management is more than that, too. On any given day, we will be fielding questions from team members and stakeholders, ensuring the project stays on budget, working to meet deadlines, and in some cases, acting as human resources. Yes, as often happens, some organizations or smaller projects do not have human resources staff on hand, and that can fall to the PM.
Myth 5: The project manager must be a subject matter expert
A project manager who is a subject matter expert in the area of their project typically has moved up the ranks in their organization and/or particular field. For instance, we see IT project managers who started their careers as programmers. They have a deep knowledge of their sector and the technologies in use. They apply these, along with their project management skills, to the successful running of a project.
But, do all project managers have to be subject matter experts? Absolutely not! There are many instances where it can be beneficial to the project for the PM not to have the technical know-how. In these scenarios, the PM is able to keep the big picture at the top of his or her mind, instead of getting bogged down in the details. Project managers without subject matter knowledge are less likely to get too occupied with perfecting the product or service and as a result, adding to the project scope. Instead, a project manager without subject matter expertise can prioritize and focus on ensuring that all project tasks are completed in a timely manner.
A big part of a project manager’s job is to communicate, not just with the team, but with internal and external stakeholders (such as clients, project sponsors, or management) who will often have only broad or even limited knowledge of the subject matter. The non-expert project manager will be able to explain the project in plain language, instead of inadvertently using technical jargon.
Because project management is in every industry across the world, the myths that are widely held in one industry may not be so in another. No matter the sector – or the myth – education and exposure to what project management actually is and what it is that project managers do in the day-to-day can help dispel myths.
What are some of the project manager myths you’ve heard or believed yourself?