Making Project Management a Career Path

For decades, I have watched companies rush into establishing project management as a career path without considering the headaches they were creating for the people in Human Resources.  I am a strong advocate of project management as a career path, and I believe that more and more companies will even recognize it as a corporate strategic competency necessary for the long term survival of the firm.

That being said, it is important to realize that project management positions often violate the established career path ladders and accompanying job descriptions.  In most companies, the higher up you go in the organizational hierarchy, the greater your financial responsibility and the greater your amount of authority.  To understand the issues as related to project management, think about how you would answer the following questions:

  1. Can a project manager be responsible for a $100 million project and discover that he/she has virtually no authority?
  2. Can a project manager have more financial responsibility than employees five or six pay grades higher than they are?
  3. Can the person responsible for the $100 million project discover that their next assignment is a $10,000 project?
  4. Can a project manager have team members assigned to their project who are several grades higher in rank and salary than the project manager?
  5. Is it possible that project staffing is a line responsibility and that project managers cannot hire people for, nor remove people from, a project team?
  6. Is it possible that you are managing a $100 million project and have no wage and salary administration responsibility?

The answer to each of these questions, in my opinion, is certainly “yes”!  Therefore, what element of the job description should differentiate the pay grades of project managers?  Can we use authority and financial responsibility?  Probably not, since most project managers have limited authority, and on a given project, a junior project manager may have significantly more authority and financial responsibility than a senior project manager.  Can we use years of experience?  Probably not, because that may imply that a junior project manager cannot be as competent as a senior project manager.  Can we use ability to manage and mitigate risks?  Possibly, but this also implies that younger project managers cannot be as competent as older project managers.  Can we use the size or dollar value of the project?  Probably not, since you certainly wouldn’t want a demotion or pay cut if the assignment following your $100 million project was a $10,000 project.

From the above comments, it should be obvious that creating project management job descriptions may not follow the traditional templates that we use for other types of job descriptions.  Can it be done?  Of course – but with difficulty, and perhaps creativity.  Many companies are resolving this problem by using competency models rather than job descriptions for project managers.  Making project management a career path is certainly the right thing to do, but let’s think it out first.

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2 thoughts on “Making Project Management a Career Path

  1. I would certainly agree on the salary and responsibility/authority part of it. I have seen that Solution Architect or Tech Lead possess more salary and authority than PM while executing the project. In Project organization, do you think these problems answered?

    • Vilasrao,
      Any organizational structure will work if people want it to work. I have seen situations where the solution architect is almost a “God” and the PMs report to the solution architect.

      -Dr. Harold Kerzner

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