by Vicki Wrona, PMP

In the previous post, Mowing Down Turf Protection, we examined the second of five cultural barriers. We’ll now explore the third barrier faced by project managers and project team members – the perception of a project manager as a Miracle Worker.

When managing projects, the ideal scenario is one in which leadership is involved in the process. They participate in the planning of the project and demonstrate their willingness to provide support with any issues or problems. They are vested and committed, responding to communications and inquiries in a timely manner, and they evangelize the value of the projects to the rest of the organization.  

However, at times project managers are faced with the challenge of leaders who aren’t involved. Lack of leadership involvement can result in significant project issues. In this post, we’ll examine the characteristics of a leadership culture that expects project managers to be Miracle Workers, and we’ll discuss ways to overcome this barrier.

Miracle Worker Expectations

The Miracle Worker culture is one in which leadership expects project results without their active involvement in the project. In other words, they expect project managers to meet deadlines, achieve deliverables and effectively leverage resources, all while allowing leadership to focus on other more important things. Symptoms of this culture include leaders who fail to provide answers or clear direction in a timely manner. Often, they refuse to engage in problem solving and planning. Because they do not fully understand the project management process, they fail to see true value and don’t take the time to fully understand the benefits of project rigor. Instead, they prefer to be detached and not deal with the burden of project management. They simply don’t want to be bothered, leaving the project manager fully responsible for all accountability.

Overcoming Miracle Worker Expectations

During the Initiating and Planning phases, project managers can help leaders understand from the onset that their involvement is critical to success by documenting and discussing needs. This includes outlining requirements for leadership support including responsiveness to questions, confirming desired direction and providing key decisions in a timely manner in order to keep the project on track. Project managers should explain the WIIFM to leaders, reinforcing points using tactics that include sharing stats on project success due to management involvement, highlighting risks of non-involvement and emphasizing how management’s reputation will be enhanced through successful delivery. These points should also convince project managers of the importance of communicating the complexity of the project to their peers and leaders in order to prevent organizational apathy.

To maintain support and involvement during Executing, project managers should communicate progress frequently. Leaders want to know their efforts to support the project manager are not being wasted. Communication should include demonstrating the ongoing complexity of the project so leaders fully understand the level of effort. Risks and issues should be highlighted along with the actions needed to mitigate them. Communication should be maintained consistently through every project phase in order to sustain the momentum of leadership involvement.

During Monitoring and Controlling, along with continuing communication with leadership, project managers should highlight how changes could impact project success. This allows leadership to provide the necessary support and communicate as needed to their peers and leaders to mitigate risk and manage expectations.

As always during Closing, it is critical to document lessons learned, but project managers should also highlight how leadership support benefited the overall project. This reinforces the value of leadership efforts and provides recognition, which the leader(s) can share with the rest of their organization.

Have you been involved in a project where you were expected to be a Miracle Worker? How did it impact the project? What techniques do you use to get leaders involved?

By taking simple steps, project managers can successfully gain and maintain leadership involvement in order to maximize project success.  In our next post we will look at obstacles #4 (Unrealistic Expectations) and #5 (the Micro-Manager).