Why Would Anyone Want to Be a Project Manager?

Whenever I teach project management at the MBA or Executive MBA levels, I always poll the class to find out how many actually want become project managers, and then I ask them why.  “To make the big bucks!” they reply.  The answer is always the same, but very few students seem to understand exactly what is involved in managing a project. They all seem to know project managers, and may even see project management in action in their companies, but they do not truly understand the role.

I then write the following on the board:

As a project manager:

  • You may have very limited or no authority at all.
  • You may have no responsibility for wage and salary administration.
  • You may not have the authority to select the staff for your project.
  • You may not be able to remove underperforming workers from your project.
  • Most of the workers on your team are working on multiple projects, and when asked when they will be working on your project, they say in a few weeks or so.

Now when I poll the class again, fewer hands are raised.

Although project management is a reasonably well paying profession, the larger project management salaries are commensurate with profit and loss (P&L) responsibility.  Not all project managers work in companies where they possess P&L responsibility and earn large salaries – so why don’t they change jobs?

The answer is simple: the ability to see the fruits of their efforts. Not very many people in a company can see an idea that was scratched on the back of a napkin come off of an assembly line a year later as a commercial product. It is incredibly rewarding to see the fruits of one’s labor. While people on the project team see individual components that are part of the end result, the project manager sees how all of the pieces fit together. And although project managers will often complain about the problems they’re having while working on a project, they always seem to ask for another to manage once it’s over.

I believe that project management has one of the lowest turnover rates of any profession in the world.  As long as the pay is almost equivalent, I think that most people would prefer to stay as project managers rather than be promoted elsewhere.

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