The accidental project manager; challenge to executives

This article is a follow-up on two prior posts that we published recently. It is also in response to various online exchanges on the topic of Accidental Project Manager. The previous articles were:

  1. Are you an accidental project manager? and
  2. Are you an accidental project manager? My wife is.

Read this Article in Arabic

Defining the Accidental Project Manager

In the previous articles, we discussed the concept of the accidental project manager and why do we give them such a title. In short, for those who did not read the prior articles, the accidental project manager is a term we use to refer to a professional, in one domain or another, who “stumble upon” project management when their managers ask them to manage a project.

The Challenge to Executives

an-accidental-project-manager; accidental project manager

The following are excerpts from one of our ebooks, Project Management I: Challenges, Opportunities, Methodology.  In the ebook we raise a “point to ponder”; or a challenge to executives.

We want to challenge executive to consider the risks associated with the concept of the accidental project manager and reconsider how to effectively minimize the threats and maximize the opportunities caused by this syndrome.

We must stress that we are not against the concept, on the contrary, and we stated so in our prior articles.

A root cause of the accidental project manager syndrome

Project management is a dynamic filed and some label it “an emerging profession”, where a large percentage of its practitioners do not have formal education or training in this domain. Many of its practitioners are technical[1] or functional[2] specialists who are reliable professionals and, as a result, are trusted to manage projects for one reason or another. Further, executives expect them to perform, in the new role as project managers, at the same level that they have performed in their working domain or field of study. This is what we call “the executive accidental project manager syndrome”.

A Point to Ponder

In light of the above, the point to ponder – the challenge – is:

Do you generally agree that the above practice is common?

If no, we still ask you to read on and challenge the point that we present here.

If yes, then we move on and expand the previous point into a two parts question:

  • Why do you think executives and senior managers assign non-project managers and those with no training or education in project management the responsibility to manage projects? and
  • Why do you think these executives expect the accidental project managers to perform in project management at the same level as their performance in their educational or professional domain?

More to Points to Consider

Let us look at these questions from different angles.

  • Would any of us go to a hospital administrator to seek medical checkup or surgery?
  • Should we go to a legal assistant to defend us in a court case?
  • Would we even go to a butcher to buy our bread?
  • Do we ask a marketing major to fix a computer?

If we do not do any of these things then why do we assign management of projects to other than project managers and continue to expect good or even excellent performance? More questions:

  • Can an excellent practicing civil engineer immediately step up and manage the development of a major structure or facility?
  • Would a computer engineer be able to step up and manage a major telecommunication infrastructure project?
  • Can a human resource expert all of a sudden manage an organizational change project?

We do agree and believe that many technical and functional professionals can learn how to manage projects – and some become experts – but they must be properly trained before the assignment and not learn under fire or put into a sink or swim situations; the possibility and price of failure is extremely high on the individual and for the organization.

We make these decisions then wonder why projects fail, or maybe we should be more politically correct and say why projects are not successful!


What do you think?

  • Do you think the concept is acceptable under any condition? … or …
  • The concept is not acceptable under any condition. … or …
  • The concept is acceptable given certain conditions. In this case, what do you think the conditions should be?

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[1] Technical refers to any technical domain such as engineering, computer science, technology, etc.

[2] Functional is used here to refer to any organizational function such as: human resource, finance, marketing, business development, strategic planning, etc.