Maybe you shouldn't be a project manager

THE ECONOMY IS still weak and construction is a lagging, not a leading economic indicator. Many of my project manager brethren are still being laid off and those laid off some time back have not been able to find jobs as project managers. Now is an obvious time to ask, even if you are currently working as a PM and have a reasonably secure position with a relatively stable company, should you stay

THE ECONOMY IS still weak and construction is a lagging, not a leading economic indicator. Many of my project manager brethren are still being laid off and those laid off some time back have not been able to find jobs as project managers.

Now is an obvious time to ask, even if you are currently working as a PM and have a reasonably secure position with a relatively stable company, should you stay in the project management profession?

When you first got into the trade, was your goal to work your way up the ladder of success to the PM level or beyond? Or did you end up in the position you're in now as a result of happenstance?

If you came from the field, were you happier working with your tools, with your hands, working down in the trenches with your guys? Why aren't you there now?

Life is too short not to be doing precisely what you want to do for a living, if you have the opportunity to do so.

What about the money? Yeah, what about the money? You know that working superintendents working "under" you often bring home bigger weekly checks than you do if you consider your overtime.

I'm asking you bluntly: Are you really happy right now as a project manager?

Being a PM requires such a broad palette of skill sets. You're certainly seldom bored, even when you're just pushing paper, because real dollars and good chunks of your bonus ride on your paying attention to all the details in that paperwork. The process of actually leading your crews on the job is obviously something you like or you'd walk away in a New York minute, right? And the rough-and-tumble of dealing with GCs and other subs on the job is something you truly get off on or you'd say, "screw it," and get in your truck, leave the jobsite and never come back, right?

Can you feel the chill winds of major change coming?

The profession of project management is undergoing a metamorphosis, whether you notice or not, from managing unique projects to that of shepherding a series of processes. Will you still be happy when things eventually get to the point where the authority to make many job decisions is taken from you and will be based on spreadsheet calculations, and your role will be that of enforcer and not manager? That day is coming and soon, trust me.

With increasing levels of responsibility come (or should, at least) increasing levels of both authority and pay. Project managers are actually "middle managers" stuck between the field and executives. In almost every other industry most of the middle managers have been squeezed out in the name of "shareholder/stakeholder return" and "efficiency" and, let's call a spade a spade, greed, as well.

Do you see the proverbial handwriting on the wall? Can you feel the chill winds of major change coming? These changes will definitely cut out good chunks of your responsibility and with that your compensation will be "adjusted" accordingly. Are you prepared for those changes? Are you willing to spend lots of your free time becoming more formally trained in the new paradigm of process management, despite the fact you have years of on-the-job experience? Are you willing to do this to try to tread water and maintain your current level of compensation?

There will always be a need for process/project managers, human nature being what it is. Everyone seeks his own level and your bosses don't want to be bothered with the details. You're too smart or clever or lazy to enjoy being back in the field working with tools. How many PMs will be needed, what their job descriptions will be and what they will be paid is another story entirely.

In the old days, once you made project manager status, you were pretty much guaranteed lifetime employment, though not necessarily with one company or at one location. Once you actually got a track record managing projects, with some exceptions, you could pretty much find a job as a PM whenever you wanted to. No more. The inevitable globalization of the world economy has thrown that baby out.

So, I ask again: Are you truly happy in what you're doing as a PM? If not, my friend, then please get the hell out of the profession! The future belongs to those who have the energy to pursue their passions because those passions drive them. They're not trying to fake being passionate about something for the sake of other motivations such as money or status.

You'll definitely be a part of the future. Where do you really want to be once you get there?

H. Kent Craig is a second-generation mechanical contractor and project manager with unlimited Master's licenses in boilers, air conditioning, heating and plumbing. He may be reached by calling 919/851-9550, or via e-mail at [email protected].