Project Management Is NOT Administration

I had a small talk with the CEO of a major IT company in Bulgaria. We were discussing the job market. I asked him about salaries of project managers.

He said, “Depends on what you mean by project manager. In our company, they are technical and they code like senior developers. In some other companies project managers are doing administrative work. These are usually paid much less, less than a developer.”

Non-technical project managers, do you feel all right under the ‘administrator’ category and getting less than what you deserve? High-level managers, do you wander about the most appropriate profile of project managers in your organization? This post will offer the insights you need.

My conversation with the CEO uncovered three common misperceptions. Is project management about “administration”? Can it mix up with technical work? And should non-technical project managers get less than the technical ones?

Let’s start with administration. Administration is “the performance or management of business operations and thus the making or implementing of a major decision”. Some examples of administrative work are running day-to-day operations of a company, management of public affairs (government), doing the paperwork related to promotions and sick leaves.

Administration is different from project management because it is ongoing and mostly reactive work. On the other hand, a project is temporary, structured and mostly proactive work.

Unlike administration, projects are quite creative by nature. And unlike administrators, today’s project managers usually have no formal power in their organizations but should rely on their leadership abilities to get things done.

Can project managers do technical work? The answer to that question is short: even if they can, they should not.

As I wrote in a previous post, modern project management emerged in 1950s. It was the separation of technical responsibilities of architects and chief engineers from the responsibility for the project what marked the birth of the new profession.

Merging technical and managerial responsibilities is therefore a thing of the past, immature from organizational point of view. Even in small organizations where people often do more than one role it is still better that the project manager has more projects on the plate, instead of taking on technical work.

Do non-technical project managers deserve less? For many IT people, even CEOs, this may sound fair. After all, IT is about technology, isn’t it? In fact, this question sounds like asking: should an orchestra conductor who can play the violin get more than the one who cannot?

Project managers must be paid for their ability to lead projects. Risk with technical people is that they often have limited project management skills.

So, here are the three key takeaways of this post. First, project management is not administration. Second, project managers should not do technical work. And third – non-technical project managers should not be discriminated.

For the sake of our profession and for better organizational efficiency, let’s make sure people understand these points.


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