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Project managers still not delivering? Maybe it’s time to get rid of them

Project managers still not delivering? Maybe it’s time to get rid of them

As CIO it’s your job to call time on the excuses and demand more from your project managers

Did you and your team return to work this year full of vim, vigour and good intentions? Were you silently hoping the perennial poor project management performers had made a New Year’s resolution to work to the best of their ability, be a team player and communicate openly and honestly? Has that happened?

If not, maybe it’s time to move them on. After all, they know what they should be doing.

It's all there in black and white. The job descriptions, the performance reviews, the conversations and the emails you have sent expressing concerns, providing feedback and suggestions.

It’s also in the textbooks that they have studied, the blogs that they have read, the TED Talks that they have watched and the coaching they’ve received.

The start of a new year provides everyone with an opportunity to reflect, then make the decision once and for all on how much they are willing to change in order to be successful in their job?

You might see encouraging signs in the first weeks back after the break. However, once they’re a month in, it’s very easy for your people to come up with excuses as to why they can't be that person. Any of these sound familiar?

It’s the sponsor that they report to.

It’s the team of people under their management who don't do what they should be doing.

It’s the development they’re not receiving.

It’s the never ending stream of paperwork that needs to be completed to get the job done.

It’s the organisation's fault for cutting corners or wanting to embrace new ways of working.

It’s the meetings they have to go to.

It’s the hours they don't have in the day.

It’s the remuneration package that they (don’t) have; or

It’s the opportunity for advancement that they don't think they’ll ever get.

But these are all just excuses for lacking self-awareness, knowledge or the courage to be the person that can overcome these things to do the job well.

As CIO it’s your job to call time on the excuses and demand more from your project managers. And if your first thought is ‘that’s easy for you to say, Colin, but…’ Well, that’s an excuse too.

Mastery of any job – project manager, project sponsor or otherwise – requires dedication, commitment and a desire to be different. It requires energy every single day and it demands that every member the team strives to develop the skills to be the best version of themselves to stay at the top of their game.

Whether they like it or not, every member of every team is a role model for transformation and and it’s important that they act like one even when they don’t think people are watching.

The success of any project or initiative starts with you as a project sponsor being 100 per cent committed and that your project managers adopt the right behaviours in support of that. They need to understand who they are, how they communicate and what they need to build.

If they don’t know who they are, what they stand for or what they want to achieve then they (and you) need to spend some time reflecting on that and setting some personal goals.

If your project managers aren’t able to treat people with kindness, empathy and respect then get them a mentor or insist on a development program that can give them these (real) skills to get the job done consistently well.

And if they don’t know how to build, coach and support a team of people who want to do the right thing in the right way in order to be successful you should invest time with them at the start of the project to collectively create a team you can all be proud of and build upon.

Of course we’re not talking about them being the perfect employee every single day of the week, nobody can do that. Your project managers are human beings too and will make mistakes from time to time. You have to support and enable them to be the best they can, so they can learn from mistakes and never lose the courage to keep trying different things.

How can your people be project role models?


  • Being consistently productive; showing people how to get the most out of their day
  • Not working long into the evening
  • Taking breaks
  • Having fun
  • Celebrating success
  • Creating a plan - no matter how big or small - that people feel part of and that is achievable
  • Being approachable and easy to be around
  • Being open to new ideas
  • Being courageous when things aren't going as well as they should be.

All of these things are their job as a project manager, it’s not just about mastering methods and attaining the latest badges. In order to be successful they need to know how to do this all really well and then, crucially, they have to do it every single working day of every single week throughout the year.

And if they don’t want to do all of this then please, PLEASE, get rid of them.

For their own quality of life, health and future prospects. For the organisation that is about to invest millions of dollars in testing and implementing new ideas.

For the people who want to do something different and that want to be led in the right way. For those people who look to you as a role model for change. And for the next generation of people who are eagerly waiting for an opportunity to demonstrate that they have what it takes to get things done.

Project success rates have been too low for too long: it’s time that you surround yourself with people willing to develop the soft skills to remain relevant, make a difference to people's lives, enhance organisational cultures and to safeguard competitive advantage. Or do them and yourself a favour and ask them to leave – it might just be the making of you both.

Colin Ellis is an award-winning international keynote speaker and trainer. He spent 20 years leading large public and private sector government departments and now works with organisations to transform the way that they deliver projects, forever. You can find out more about him at www.colindellis.com

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