Did you know you are a project manager?

Project management worker writing on flipchart with marker pen in meeting room within circle of empty chairs

Many professionals are given the responsibility for running projects without even realizing it. Although this can happen for any number of reasons, in my experience, there are generally two routes into this “unofficial” project manager role.

Does this sound familiar?

The first is as an appointed workstream leader, which often happens in big projects involving many different teams. In this situation, someone is usually assigned as lead on a specific workstream, in effect a mini-project for that person to run, but without the title.

The second is when an individual is delegated a specific task, which requires the engagement of other team members. The scope may not even be defined as yet but needs collaborative involvement to decide what needs delivering and the best course of action. Often approached via a workshop scenario, someone will have to take the initiative or be accountable for developing an action plan.

How do you know?

The first sign that you have taken on a project manager role – albeit temporarily or unofficially – is failure, usually due to over-committing or under-estimating the task in hand. This is because a lot of inexperienced people work on gut feel or guess work in terms of deliverables and only realize a week before deadline that it won’t happen.

It’s only by failing that you realize the “project” may need a more rigorous approach. In which case, you need to ask yourself, what can I do to be more efficient?

How can you make it work?

Considering any – or all – of the following tips can help bridge the gap and achieve a successful outcome:

  • Reach out for support: Qualified project managers have the authority to engage with people within the organization at all levels, including their sponsors. But for those working in an unofficial capacity, this can be difficult. So, you need to connect with senior managers, explain the issues and ask for their support in getting what you need. 
  • Be clear about competing priorities: If you have a “day job” and are suddenly given an ad-hoc project to run, you need to understand which takes priority and why. Clear and regular communication with senior manager and stakeholders to make them aware of what is – and is not – getting done, is essential.   
  • Consider formal training: As a minimum, get familiar with the methods and concepts of project management. In fact, there is always an argument for completing a qualification, whether that means PRINCE2®, PRINCE2 Agile® or Six Sigma. All of them are beneficial, as they provide the basic tools to be more organized, productive and efficient, no matter what your official role.

Opening doors

While it’s obviously not for everyone, I have found that many people enjoy being given a taste of project management work. They find it rewarding to own something and get the recognition for its ultimate delivery. So much so, that it’s sometimes the beginning of a new career path towards bigger and more complex projects. It can happen – after all, it’s how I started out and I’ve never looked back.

See our website for more information about PRINCE2 and PRINCE2 Agile certifications - and to search for a training provider .

Read more AXELOS Blog Posts by Ana Bertacchini

4 steps to a successful project management career

How to survive project management for the non-project manager

How to align project management to corporate strategy

How to use 'lessons learned' to reduce project failure

How project managers can always improve emotional intelligence

The multi-faceted project manager

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12 Jan 2020 Suat
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My insights :
* Reach out for support: you may not have right to tell people what to do, but their supervisors do ;)
* Be clear about competing priorities : Supervisors generally want everything to be done in a timely manner. They may not want to choose one project over other job, you should definitely be clear and tell them what it takes to be done, how much time it consumes and the day is only 24 hours ;)
* Consider formal training : you can start by non-formal training, but be aware that non-formal ones are more time consuming and maybe unreliable sources that can mislead you.
7 Jul 2021 Leszek Szczurko
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A common path for assigning the informal responsibilities of a project manager is also the intention to combine several roles in one person. For example, when a system or process administrator is given additional tasks, there is more comprehensive responsibility in a project that does not have the external characteristics of a formal project. System administrators usually have a fairly comprehensive knowledge of the maintained system, fulfill the role of expert analysts and manage the system, are responsible for communication with infrastructure and development departments as well as business stakeholders. In such a situation, delegating the informal role of the manager of an externally not formalized project is a common practice.
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