West of the Midtown Manhattan in New York City stands One Worldwide Plaza, a 47 storey skyscraper built in the 1980s. It was part of a speculative development by William Zeckendorf and his partners, and the tower was to be built by HRH Construction, an experienced local firm to the designs of David Child, a senior architect with Skidmore, Owings and Merrill. Dominic Fonti was given the job of project manager, responsible for managing a highly complex project whilst under acute time and cost pressure. Would Fonti and his team be able to deliver the building on schedule faced with an aggressive ‘fast track’ design and build method, a major tenant demanding fundamental changes, and less than reliable suppliers?
The project manager has the fundamental job of managing activity throughout the project so that the output is delivered to the sponsor to the sponsor’s satisfaction. In theory that will achieved by devising a good project plan, conducting the work in a well-organised and predictably manner, and delivering an output that meets time, cost and quality expectations. In practice the role is a much wider one as this table shows.
Fulfilling the project manager role effectively calls for a wide range of skills and experience as shown below.
The project manager needs to have a close working relationship with the sponsor, built on mutual respect. They should be adept in project management tools and techniques. They must have team and people skills, and be able to interact positively with all kinds of people, including senior executives and external stakeholders. A project is a small (or sometimes a large) business in its own right so the project management must be competent in business management. They must have sufficient technical knowledge to be able to run the project they are in charge of, and they must of course be good communicators and organisers.
As an individual a project manager must be credible – taking ownership for the job, being enthusiastic about it and committed to it, and displaying integrity and trustworthiness. They must display confidence – convincing the sponsor and key stakeholders they have what it takes to see the job through even when things get tough. And they must have a high tolerance for ambiguity – being able to make decisions without having all the data in order to keep the project moving.
Different types of project call for different characteristics in the project manager and different styles of management. Once the challenges of the project are understood, this may be a guide to the combination of characteristics that the manager of the project would need. So a project to produce a high tech product, harnessing the skills of teams in different parts of the world, and facing some tricky stakeholder resistance might need someone who is a combination of technologist, wayfarer, sociologist and negotiator on top of all the other skills discussed earlier.
And it is not unusual for the project manager to change during the course of a project to reflect the changing demands as it progresses – especially om very large projects. In the early stages it is about getting it up and running, in the middle it is about keeping things running smoothly while sorting out problems, and towards the end it is about removing obstacles to completion.
Morris, P. (1997). The Management of Projects. London: Thomas Telford. Sabbagh, K. (1989). Skyscraper – the making of a building. London: Macmillan. Skyscraper. 1988. TV. UK: Channel 4; US: DigiCom TV.
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