Multiple articles have been written about the evils of being a weak project manager. The unwillingness of such individuals to challenge poor decisions, to confront unhealthy conflict, or to shield their team members from unnecessary interference impacts team morale, forces other stakeholders to step in to keep projects on track and reduces the overall value derived from the projects managed by such project managers.
When we witness such challenges, it is tempting to think that there’s no ceiling on how strong a project manager should be. But is that a valid assertion? Is there anything wrong with being an alpha project manager?
Let’s start with projectized organizations. Are there any impacts of a strong project manager doing their utmost to secure and sustain funding for their project in such a company – sounds like just what they should be doing, right?
But what if the opportunity cost to the organization of continued investment in their project is a greater issue than pulling the plug? In such cases, even if the project manager has stuck to using only healthy politics and influence to sway funding decisions in support of their project, they haven’t done the organization any long term favors.
And what of the scenario where there is a very strong project manager whose peers are of average capability?
Assuming the alpha project manager is willing to coach and guide the others, this might be just what’s needed to raise organizational project management capability, but what happens if they are territorial and don’t want competition. This situation could end up demoralizing other project managers resulting in an increased likelihood of attrition.
Projectized organizations are the exception, not the norm, so what risks might an alpha project manager present in matrix organizations?
While one can be considered a strong project manager based on one’s influence to forge and sustain positive, productive working relationships with functional managers, if the line between persuasion and bullying gets crossed, the project manager might succeed in the short term, but is unlikely to earn the respect and support from these managers required for them to be successful in the long term.
Finally, in a company operating at a low level of organizational project management maturity, an alpha project manager might sufficiently frighten stakeholders that he or she sets back the pace of capability improvement by a year or two.
In general, it is much better to be a strong project manager than a weak one, but how that strength is manifested needs to be commensurate with the needs of the project and the culture of the organization.
“Strength is the capacity to break a Hershey bar into four pieces with your bare hands – and then eat just one of the pieces.” – Judith Viorst