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Project manager vs People manager: two identical jobs?

Let’s say you’re a great project manager. Does that automatically mean you’ll be a good people manager? Or vice versa?

This question came to me following a conversation with a colleague. He did not understand why he would not make a good boss when he was so well liked in the context of all the projects he had led.

These are two different jobs, in my opinion. Being successful in one does not guarantee success in the other.

Naturally there is plenty of overlap between the two. Both roles coax a team into reaching a target based on a vision. Both require keeping a lid on costs, sticking to deadlines, managing people and knowing how to put ideas across.

The difference is seen in terms of timeframe.

A project has a set lifetime in which a clearly stated goal needs to be reached. In an organisation, the term is unlimited and the goal is expressed as a longer-term vision.

For example:

In practical terms, how do these differences affect the way a team is managed?

The project manager manages according to a shorter timeframe. The project team shows determination and can be trained further to reach the goal. Part of the process is defined by the team along the way, as every project is unique.

The manager is working according to a long-term perspective. Project after project, this person’s team must stay motivated and continue finding meaning in its work.

Perhaps an overstated analogy would be likening a project manager to a soldier and a people manager to a farmer.

When a war is raging, people don’t really have too much time to talk about or question what course of action should be taken. The chain of command needs to be clear and precise. Those on the battlefield understand this and do what they are told.

Meanwhile, back on the farm, patience is the virtue. As I’ve already stated in another blog, there’s no point pulling on blades of grass so that the lawn grows faster. We merely sow, then sit back and wait for the result.

An employee expects the project manager to listen to them, to let them help find solutions, and is okay with the idea that someone else’s plan may be chosen in the end.

The same employee expects the same from their line manager. However, they will also expect their line manager to help them advance in the company and foster working conditions that are pleasant and stimulating.

To fulfil employees’ expectations, the project manager is operations focused while the line manager has a more strategic role.

The project manager has a singular focus: making a success of the project. The manager’s only goal is to have a winning team that will be capable of carrying out key projects within the company, time and time again.

The two jobs require different skillsets. Acknowledging this fact within companies could ensure that the right people are occupying the right positions.

Does this article inspire you? Give you ideas? Tell us about it!

Artwork: Mélanie Bénard Tremblay, 2020, © Marakoudja.


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