Ten Signs that Project Management is Not Your Thing

ten signs that project management is not your thingIt’s OK. Project management isn’t for everyone. It’s interesting, challenging, and somewhat rewarding. I’ll be honest and say it’s more internally rewarding than outwardly so. Success is expected but hard to come by. The target is definitely on the PM’s head if things go awry, but accolades do not come easy to the PM when success happens. It’s more of a team thing. So if you’re looking for the glory, PM may not be it.

Not everyone is cut out to be a project manager. Being a PM is not an exclusive club. It’s not even necessarily a highly desirable profession. You get a lot of visibility, but not necessarily a lot of recognition. That often goes more to the technical team than the PM, unless the project is very successful and highly visible.

I’m going to present here what I consider to be my personal list of ten signs you may not be a successful project manager and may want to consider a different career path.

1) You may lack independent thinking

This may sound a little odd, but what I’m referring to is someone who can’t really think for themselves. I ran into this type of project manager while running an enterprise solution implementation for a major US airline. The project manager on the client side – the airline side – seemed to never have an original thought of his own. The only information he attempted to contribute during status meetings was info everyone already had in front of them from my status reports and issues/risks lists. We’ve all run into this type of individual before – the one who tries to sound valuable or on top of things by simply regurgitating information or agreeing quickly with everything.

We also know that does not make for a good PM. The rock solid PM has original thoughts, is aggressive with action and decisions, and works confidently moving forward toward project goals.

2) You are friends with everybody

I liken this one to the mother who treats her daughter like her best friend but not like her daughter. Same goes with a father-son relationship. If you lose that position of leadership completely, it’s gone and it’s hard to regain. The most successful projects I’ve led involved teams comprised of solidly skilled colleagues, but none of my closest friends within the organization. When I have worked closely with co-workers that I would also consider ‘friends’, the results were never as good because that position of authority is grayed just enough to make things uncomfortable.

3) You don’t like pressure

Being a PM means you have the target on your forehead for the entire project. The Project Manager has to stay on top of status, project schedules, issues, risks and all project communications constantly. Pressure is frequent throughout the project.

If you don’t handle pressure well, then being a PM is probably not the best choice for you. Being anything in IT is probably not for you, for that matter….because pressure on IT projects is felt pretty much throughout the entire team and throughout the entire project duration.

4) You need rewards

Like I said earlier, you can get a lot of recognition, but it’s harder to get good recognition than it is to get bad recognition. On the surface, much of the good recognition for a successful project will often go to the technical resources that developed the solution. This, of course, depends on the company, but it is common…and it’s ok. The developers likely did great work on a successful solution. You led, but you didn’t create…and that’s ok.

If you are one who needs constant praise, then a Project Management path is probably not for you. It’s rewarding, but most of your rewards will likely come from the relationships you build on your teams with your team members and with your customer, not from the overflowing of praise and recognition you hope to get on a project.

5) You’re not a problem solver

Being a PM means you’re required to be a confident decision-maker. Look to your team and other available resources – including your customer – as sources to help you solve issues and make decisions. But if you’re inclined to run from problems or put them off and hope that they resolve themselves or that someone else steps up to solve them, then a PM career is not for you.

At every critical problem point, both your team and your customer’s team are going to look to you as the key leader and decision-maker and you can’t back down. If you’re shaky in your decision-making or tend to be wishy-washy when it comes to problem solving and leadership, seek a different path for your own good.

6) You’re great with technology but not people

If you’re not a people person and prefer technology over people, then it’s not likely that you’re ready for a career as a Project Manager. PMs are often thrust into customer-facing roles and are looked upon to lead a team of skilled resources on projects. They must be ready to present materials, lead status meetings and status calls, initiate ad hoc communication, and just in general be very confident dealing with people.

If that’s not you, then run don’t walk. If you prefer technology more than people you may be more designed for the role of the techie on the project – the person who develops the solution, not the individual who maps out how and when it will be delivered. And patience with your team and the customer is critical. If you don’t have patience, don’t sign up to be a PM.

7) You’re great with people but not technology

Likewise, if you’re all about people but do not have any technical background then running IT projects as a PM is not for you. I still contend that a good IT PM must have some technical background in order to be trusted, understood, and followed by the technical resources they are leading on a long project.

You might get away with it on a very short engagement just by being a strong, confident leader. But on a 6-12 month engagement or longer you’ll be exposed and the technical team will question decisions, etc. I’ve seen it happen and I’ve witnessed very frustrated PMs who aren’t PMs anymore.

8) You are customer-phobic

This one is huge. Since customer-facing activities are the most visible tasks that Project Managers perform, it is key that the PM be comfortable presenting to and sharing information with the customer on a regular basis. Projects can’t be run entirely by email…you have to pick up the phone and give the customer both good and bad information off and on throughout an engagement. Depending on the type of project, you’ll likely have to meet the customer face-to-face a few times, if not regularly, throughout the project as well.

PMs who are not 100% comfortable with this customer interaction need not apply. Your customer management and communication skills must be top-notch or they’ll eat you alive. And then request a new PM for the project….

9) You are executive management-phobic

This one is equally huge. The PM may not get lots of accolades, but they are well known and you will get called into the CEO’s office at some point, most likely…for good and for bad. At some point, a PM is going to find themselves on a very visible project that has been raised to the level of their executive management for attention. Sitting in the office of the CEO having a conference call with the customer to resolve an issue (remember, customers can cry loudly!) is a very real possibility. If the thought of this sends you running for the hills, then being a PM is likely not for you.

10) You’re not good at meeting deadlines

This one is obvious. I should have already covered it, but I see that I haven’t. An individual who perpetually procrastinates and just can’t meet deadlines is certainly not cut out to be a project manager. Meeting deadlines is what a successful project is all about. And as the PM, the example has to be set – the bar has to be set high. Everyone on both project teams is watching and if deadlines aren’t important to the PM, then they won’t be nearly important enough to the other members of the teams. Deadlines will only be important to them in terms of keeping their jobs, not in terms of success on the current project.


That’s my full list of ten. I know there are more signs out there. What’s on your list? Please feel free to share your own thoughts and signs… I’m sure you’ve seen colleague failures. Let’s discuss them here.

Brad Egeland
Brad Egeland

Noteworthy accomplishments:
*20 year provider of successful technical project management leadership for clients across nearly every industry imaginable
*Author of more than 4,000 expert professional project management and business strategy articles, eBooks and videos over the past decade
*Articles/professional content receives over 40,000 page views monthly
*Named #1 in the 100 Most Inspiring People in Project Management
*Named a Top 10 Project Management Influencer to Follow in 2016
*The most read author of expert project management content on Project Times/BA Times for 2015
*Named most prolific provider of project management content over the past 5 years
*Noted for successful project management and financial oversight for $50 million Dept. of Education financial contract/program
*Chosen by the Dept of Defense as a subject matter expert (SME) to help select IWMS software provider for the largest IWMS implementation ever awarded

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