The difference between management and project management

Feb. 1, 2010
H. Kent Craig takes a look at some of the main aspects of management and project management, defining the roles of a VP of project management from a job-level project manager.

Common sense will tell you that there are many degrees of responsibility between micromanaging a two-man crew as a working foreman and macromanaging a 2,000 employee company as a corporate president. There are many similarities of course, such as knowledge of human nature, commitment to the company, basic accounting skills, etc.                                             The differences in levels of management often have to do with responsibility of creating and enforcing the corporate vision and bottom-line fiduciary responsibility. Let’s take a look at some of the main aspects of management and project management, defining the roles of a VP of project management from a job-level project manager.

A VP-PM in most companies would usually be considered “core management” along with other VPs and the company CFO, president and CEO. While towards the bottom rung of this highest management ladder, the VP-PM would still have input if not direct responsibility for helping formulate corporate policies in all matters, and assigning tasks to those under him to insure that such policies are actually implemented.

A project manager usually has little if any contact with the upper-most ladder senior management folks except for reporting directly to his VP of project management, has no direct input into formulation of corporate policies and is next in line at the top of his middle-management management ladder to have tasks assigned to him to actually do the grunt work of implementing corporate policy, or passing the load of said implementation further on down the ladder to his superintendents and working foremen.

A VP-PM usually has standard, upper-management perks, such as their own private secretary, a nice company-furnished vehicle, options to buy into equity participation of company stock, T&E perks such as country club memberships, paid trade seminar “vacations,” the authority to take potential clients and such out to dinner and golf outings, and paid educational benefits such as getting an MBA at company expense. On top of all those perks, there is usually an unstated, but normal expectation of job security, as long as the company has modest growth and sustained profitability.

A project manager usually has better perks than their superintendents and other employees under their aegis, but only marginally so. A superintendent, or even working foreman, usually has a company-furnished vehicle too while a project manager is often given a car allowance and gas/repairs/etc. to help pay for the PM-standard SUV. Seldom are project managers given the opportunity to buy into the company equity especially if the company is privately held. There’s a little leeway in taking the odd recruit or potential client out to lunch, but doing so more than once or twice a month will usually bring forth an inquiry as to why. As far as continuing educational benefits go, most companies don’t offer that to their project managers, unless it’s specifically job-related. A PM having a private secretary? Ha — that’s a good one! They’re called jobsite secretaries. And job security? Do you want me to roll on the floor from being doubled-over with laughter? The only job with any less job security would be that of an NFL coach, who by way of appropriate analogy, is only as good as what they’ve done for the owners lately.

A VP-PM can have the personality and intelligence of a chair, and remain with the company until retirement age as long as he has enough chutzpah and core knowledge, however minimal, to know who, where and how to assign specific jobs and corporate agendas to.

A project manager proper, however, must wear more hats than a juggling haberdasher. To be successful, a project manager must have: the near-equivalent knowledge of Adler or Freud about human psychology; accounting skills to the point where he could sit on the Financial Accounting Standards Board; the combined knowledge of an mechanical engineer, registered architect, civil engineer and electrical engineer, since part of his job is finding and correcting mistakes made by his offsite peers in those fine professions; the meditative skills of a Zen Master and the mediation skills of a lawyer to keep from going crazy in job meetings; the diplomatic skills to protect his company’s interests while enabling continuing progress of the job; and the humbleness of a simple country preacher since, in the end — like a preacher — he does it for the love of the profession, not for any monetary or ego-based reasons.

It’s too bad that the act of being promoted from a job project manager to a vice president of project management strips all these great and valuable qualities of humanity from him — it’s a shameful waste of potential.

Kent Craig is a second-generation mechanical contractor with unlimited Master’s licenses in boilers, air conditioning, heating and plumbing. You may contact him via email at [email protected].

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