Does the project manager need to be an actual manager?

Yes, but what are they managing?

Last week I ran a workshop on project management with the management team of a company. Together we studied the role of the two agents in the project manager/sponsor tandem.

Everyone agreed that the project vision was the sole preserve of the project sponsor, while the project manager was responsible for seeing it through. This responsibility gives him de facto control of the project budget as well as the leadership of the individuals assigned to carry out the project tasks.

Everything was going well, and consensus seemed to be achieved. Suddenly, a member dared to ask the question that I had actually felt coming: “But our project managers are not management-level employees!”. A long discussion featuring arguments and counter-arguments followed. The discussion was soon interrupted by the managing director, who announced: “Friends, let me stop you there. This point was discussed at headquarters and it was decided not to give project manager management-level status. It’s up to us to legitimize their role”.