The Project Manager as Boss

The words “THE BOSS” comes heavily burdened based on one’s experience and expectations. For an older generation, their first thought might be an association with the singer, Bruce Springsteen who in the late 1960s, acquired the nickname “The Boss” when he and his band played New Jersey clubs and Bruce was responsible for collecting and distributing the band’s nightly pay. Alternatively, you may think about the new TV show “Undercover Boss,” which the New York Times cites as a show just “made for the anticorporate rancor”.

Whether you think of the boss as a positive person in your life or the bane of your existence, bosses are important. (pssst – project managers are bosses). Which leads me to tell you about an interesting article I read from Stanford professor Robert Sutton in The McKinsey Quarterly called, “Why good bosses tune in to their people”. (The link to the entire article is at the bottom of this post.)

Here are a few nuggets from the article:

  1. Studies show that for more the 75 percent of employees, dealing with their immediate boss is the most stressful part of their job.
  2. Note to bosses: your subordinates spend a lot more time watching you than you spend watching them.
  3. Bosses often get more credit – and blame – than they deserve. This happens explains the author because it is simpler and easier to find one person responsible than to try to dissect all of the small decisions and behaviors that lead to success or failure.
  4. Research shows that belief follows behavior and the author suggests a fake-it-until-you-make-strategy. Now I have trouble with this concept, I admit. Project managers lose respect and authority quickly when their lack of knowledge or expertise is transparent to their analytically inclined, smart staff. However, perhaps there are circumstances when acting as if you know what you are doing is enough.
  5. Be willing to take the blame. (see item 3) Accept the fact that senior management expects the project manager to know what is going-on on his project and holds him – not the subcontractor who was 30 days late – responsible.
  6. Good bosses and project managers provide psychological safety for team members – they encourage learning, testing out new solutions and they never ridicule or punish people for trying to do their job.
  7. Good project managers protect their team from the “incompetence, cluelessness and premature judgments” of key organizational decision makers. I would add here the caveat – to the extent possible. Sometime you really do have to “read the org chart” and support the decisions made above you.
  8. Good bosses and project managers make the time to acknowledge contributions to the project and celebrate team successes – even small ones.

Link to article:

Do you have some good boss or bad boss stories to share? Please do so via your comments.

4 Responses to “The Project Manager as Boss”

  1. Daniel Linman, MyMG Contributor Says:

    Both boss and project manager are decision makers. In my company I communicate with my boss and the project manager. Thanks for the article. I like it.

  2. Jessie Warner Says:

    Because the boss is always a project manager of sorts, whether officially or not, he/she must be able to communicate well and often with their team. I know for us, we use @task work management software to help us stay on track. The visibility our boss has into our activities really helps him both recognize and reward our accomplishments.

    Good article.

  3. What do the Olympics have in common with a Project? | Fear No Project Blog - Focusing on the Management Side of Projects Says:

    […] Coaches and trainers can help shape people into winning performers.   Do you provide opportunities for people to learn and grow? Have you hired a special coach when needed? Training can greatly improve even a great performer so are you using this as a way to improve staff skills?  You can always get them a tablet reader and some good eBooks!  Try some brown bag lunch training.  Be the Coach for your team – this means being a good leader! […]

  4. The Bad Boss Experience | Fear No Project Blog - Focusing on the Management Side of Projects Says:

    […] (Many positions in an organization require the skills of being a good boss. In an earlier post we describe the challenge of being a Project Manager and a boss at the same time – “The Project Manager as Boss.”) […]

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