Are You an “Unofficial Project Manager”?

Questions to Ponder

  • Why is a good project management process not enough to ensure project success?
  • What does that statement “Most projects fail because the team fails” mean to you?
  • What would be the impact on your important projects if the team lived by the basic principles spoken of in this article?
  • Why is the character of the project leader so important to the outcome of a project?

When we ask people what part of their work life is made up of projects, most of them say between 60 and 80 percent. When we ask them if their job title is “project manager,” virtually 100 percent answer with a resounding No! They are anything but project managers. When we ask them if they’ve ever been “trained” in project management, a few hands go up, but most have never had a single day of training.

So, who are you? Are you an “unofficial” project manager? If so, you’re not alone. A lot of us have quietly slipped into that role, and we’re fighting project failure every day as we try to push through to a deadline, save a budget, or keep people (or ourselves) from messing everything up. And we don’t always succeed. In fact, we don’t usually succeed. According to the Project Management Institute:

  • For every US $100 invested in projects worldwide, there’s a net loss of $13.50 – “lost forever – unrecoverable.”
  • Only 8 percent of organizations are “high performers” in managing projects.
  • 45 percent of projects are either overdue or canceled altogether.
  • Only 45 percent of projects actually meet the goals they’re supposed to meet.

Sounds dismal, doesn’t it? The professionals aren’t doing all that well, and here you are an “unofficial” project manager? Is there any hope for you? What to do? The project management process is not exactly a science, but it’s pretty well understood. It might be new to you, but you’ll get the hang of it without much trouble. So yes, follow a good process by all means. However…

Project management is as much about leading people as it is about managing a process.

Leading people is the real challenge in getting to a great outcome with your project. You’ve heard the fable of the goose and the golden eggs – you’ll recall that the impatient farmer killed the goose to get at all the eggs and ended up with nothing. In project terms, the deliverable is the golden egg, but the project team is the goose. Too many people try to lead a project by focusing on the process, but they have a blind spot when it comes to the people. This is their mindset:


They believe the key to great results is a great process, but that’s only half the story. In fact, the project-success formula looks like this:


The project manager who puts people first has found the secret to project success. Most projects fail because the team fails. People disrespect one another, they talk too much and listen too little, they end up doing a lot of re-work because expectations are unclear, and they don’t like being “held accountable.” These common behaviors go right to the character of people. They are not surface behaviors; they come up from underneath, from a fearful heart. People are afraid of failing, of looking less than competent, of being blamed if things go wrong. A lot is at stake with a business project – the livelihood and the self-image of real people are at stake, and they know it.

That’s why the character of the project leader matters so much – your character.

As Stephen R. Covey taught, “There are basic principles of effective living, and people can only experience true success as they integrate these principles into their basic character.” You can’t lead people unless they see that you’re trying to live up to basic principles like respect, consideration, empathy, integrity, and responsibility. According to the Project Management Institute, “focusing on the talent” should be the project leader’s top priority. That’s a big, wide priority, but at bottom it can be narrowed down to making sure that the leader and the team live by those basic principles.

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