Ten Things a Project Manager Can Teach the CEO
By Brad Egeland
Your CEO knows everything, right? That’s why they are the company leader. Wrong. Just like everyone else, they can take some tips from other leaders in the organization.
The problem is, the typical CEO has to maintain a fairly high level of focus on the organization as a whole. Certainly they face new challenges in their jobs regularly. But these challenges are broad and often on a very large scale. They aren’t necessarily making decisions on detailed issues at the speed of light as can often be the case for most project managers. In order to survive and just hope to emerge with a somewhat successful project, project managers must inherently exemplify the ten characteristics or skills that I’ve listed in this article. CEOs on the other hand, could learn a lot from project managers in these areas and would undoubtedly emerge better leaders of their organizations for it.
In my opinion, ten key things that CEOs can learn from project managers – in no particular order – are:
#1 – Customer focus
CEOs are used to dealing with…well…other CEOs. In addition they are working with their company board, leaders at some of their top customers and even the press. But again, they aren’t usually in a position to deal with the day-to-day customer – the end user in the trenches. They aren’t usually interacting with the subject matter experts and end users in those customer organizations or even the project sponsors. That’s the project manager’s role, but that’s also where the real customer satisfaction is developed. If CEOs were able to take the time and take a cue from project managers and interacted with their daily customers – those who actually use the systems and solutions their companies develop – they would be surprised at the positive results in terms of customer confidence and satisfaction. Nothing says you’re an important customer like having your vendor’s CEO meet with you personally.
#2 – Delegation for survival
In the CEO world, I’m sure there is delegation. But, in general, what is on their plate is on their plate and what their underlings are tasked with is fairly obvious, because their underlings are CIOs, CTOs, CMOs, COOs, and their administrative assistant. The project manager, on the other hand, must often delegate to survive. Working hard often trying to please five or six customers at the same time with very different projects, different technical implementations and trying to keep it all straight is not an easy assignment. The skilled project manager must know the skills of their project staff (which differs from project to project) and must know what to pass of to who and when to do it.
#3 – Communication as a tool
CEOs must communicate – there is no doubt about that. However, being able to communicate strategically and simultaneously with a customer, a project team, and executive management as well as doing that for probably 4-5 other projects…all at the same time…is an entirely different story. No one helps a project manager write what he’s going to say to kickoff a highly visible new project at a customer site. No one is going to put the kickoff presentation together for that project manager either. The ability to communicate effectively and efficiently with project staff and the customer is, in my opinion, the number one responsibility of the project manager and it is basically a means of survival during difficult project times.
#4 – Digging to understanding the real need
The good project manager knows going into an engagement that it’s highly likely the customer doesn’t fully understand their own need. It may only be a symptom of the real need. CEOs can learn lessons here from project managers to ask questions and dig deeper into the real needs of their own organization rather than take information at face value. Too much corporate money is spent on the wrong projects and processes due to lack of detailed evaluation of the real issues.
#5 – Flexibility is necessary
Managing many project team members and usually multiple customers at the same time requires project managers to make quick decisions and be flexible in handling situations, personnel, information, risks, issues, and change in general. The process for handling similar tasks for the CEO is more methodical – requiring great responsibility and usually at a much higher level and bigger dollar risk, but usually not the same on-the-spot flexibility that project managers are subjected to weekly, if not daily or hourly.
#6 – Collaboration with key personnel
Both CEOs and project managers must collaborate with key personnel. The difference is the level of collaboration necessary and the breadth of collaboration required. CEOs can definitely learn key collaboration skills from project managers who must interact with and gain valuable information from a very diverse and often geographically dispersed set of individuals on a daily basis.
#7 – Listen, listen, listen
Project managers – in order to communicate well and understand their customer’s and project team’s needs and concerns – must be good listeners. CEOs listen too, but it isn’t a key job function that can lead to ruin if executed poorly. That reality is every day life for the project manager.
#8 – Accountability up and down
The CEO is accountable to his company board. The project manager is accountable to the CEO and other senior management, the customer, his own project team, and likely the end users of the solution to be implemented. Accountability is a good thing. It makes jobs hard, but it makes projects and decisions and actions better. CEOs can learn from the type of accountability that project managers are subjected to.
#9 – How to really multi-task
As mentioned previously, many project managers are running several projects at once. Multi-tasking goes with the territory. CEOs must also multi-task, but few leadership positions are required to multi-task to the level of the full-loaded project manager who is overseeing several projects with different staffs on each project and a different customer across the table on each of those projects.
#10 – Develop team member relationships
A good project manager must develop relationships – at least to some degree – with each of his project team members in order to get the most out of them and gain their following and trust. For the PM leading, say, five projects, with an average of five team members on each project that’s a total of twenty-five relationships that need to be cultivated right now. Yes, CEOs must cultivate relationships, but due to the position and the direct reporting authority, following goes with the position of authority…not something that must be earned with each new team. The CEO has earned it through years of rising through the ranks. And it isn’t ever-changing as it is for project managers who manage a project today and move on to a new project with a new team tomorrow.