How to be the Boss – The Project Manager Perspective

Being the boss can have its benefits and its burdens. While some may relish in the experience of added responsibility and being more accountable at a higher level, others shun the notion of ever being in charge.

Regardless of one’s sentiment, there will always be a need for some form on management in any organization. Layers and hierarchies are common-place, even in organizations that are more ‘flat’. Like it or not, there will always be someone to report to within the confines of one’s day-to-day duties.

Now most of us are familiar with the notion of having a direct line immediate manager of some sort. This would be the person that you are associated with from an HR perspective. i.e. the individual that performs your focal reviews, deals with certain roadblocks, and so forth. But how, you may ask, does the project manager fall into this structure? Being that the project manager is, in certain terms, the ‘boss’ of the project, how exactly do they handle themselves especially in situations where they are merely receiving resources from actual functional managers as opposed to utilizing direct reports?

To answer this, it’s important to remind ourselves of the different structures that can exist within an organization and how the project manager fits into the broader corporate hierarchy. In a previous post, I discussed the various types of organizational structures that can exist (As a reference, please access the post: The Power of the PMO) As itemized previously, there are three types of organizational structure: Functional, Projectized and Matrix. The main take-away is that the project manager will have a little more sway (or power) within a projectized structure and what they call a ‘strong matrix’ versus the functional structure, where the immediate managers have more clout.

Regardless of structure type, in the end, there are some key ideas and concepts that the project manager should be cognizant of when performing their duties in relation to being ‘the boss’. (Whether that be directly or indirectly)

1. Lead by Example

As parents are often told, “if you don’t want a certain behavior to manifest in your children, don’t perform that behavior yourself.” The same can be said for being an effective project manager or any manager for that matter. If you are obnoxious, lazy, stubborn or down-right combative, you are likely not going to be garnering much in the way of positive feedback from your peers. The general rule of thumb is, behave in a professional manner. That means being cognizant of the social rules of the workplace. Additionally, set a good example by always being timely in your own particular workload during the project’s life-cycle. If you set the stage by always being diligent about your job, that will be positive feedback and a good incentive for the team members to conduct themselves in the same fashion.

2. Take Time to Listen

Humans by nature love to talk. (Most of us anyway) And the project manager’s job is all about communication. But good and effective communication is a two-way street. It’s not just about disseminating information, it’s also about receiving and comprehending it. As such, when team members are approaching you with information or are providing ideas or suggestions about the overall project or its scope, take the time to listen. Make sure that the team members have an effective forum where they can be confident that they can speak their minds comfortably. And it’s always beneficial to foster an open door policy where you state up front that any member of the team can approach you for open discussion or dialog on any issue.

3. Be Honest with the Team (that includes admitting when you were wrong!)

When people in various industries are polled and asked what characteristic they want most from their immediate management, invariably, one of the most common ones cited is ‘trust’. One cannot over-emphasize how important it is to maintain an environment of trust, especially when leading a team. That means being upfront and honest about any issues that arise, not keeping relevant and pertinent details of the project hidden and most importantly, never hiding your mistakes from the team. By maintaining trust, you will foster an environment of more effective collaboration and less stress between members of the team. Additionally, by being upfront about mistakes you have made (minor or otherwise), your team members will likely be more comfortably about approaching you with issues or problems they have encountered, even if they themselves were responsible.

4. Always be Available

As alluded to earlier, an open door policy is a fantastic way of fostering a team environment for the project team. That means always having communication channels open for both local and remote team members and by indicating up front that any team member can contact you without the need for an appointment if necessary. Some may think this could open up scenarios whereby the project manager is being continuously interrupted. But unless this is a team that requires copious amounts of hand-holding, the open door philosophy has far more benefits than downsides.

5. Protect the Team from Distractions

Distractions come in many forms: interruptions from colleagues, scope changes from stakeholders, organizational changes within the company, business alignment and process changes and so forth. Also, roadblocks or pitfalls may surface during the project’s life-cycle. What’s important is that the project manager be at the vanguard of these situations and act as the gate-keeper for any distractions that may surface. The more time that team members have to contend or deal with these issues as they surface, the less time they are doing their actual work on the project. From the standpoint of being a project contributor, one should be as shielded as possible from the ‘noise’ that may occur within any company. So long as the project manager stays on top of any distractions that may surface, they should be able to provide the necessary protection for their team members.

6. Reward and Praise Contributions by the Team

We all remember elementary school, where a good report was given either a ‘star’ or a smiley face. And as laughable as it may sound, praise even in adulthood does wonders for the morale of people who are part of the team. So if a team member goes the extra mile or solves a problem that has been hounding the project, they should receive praise. That can be in the form of a ‘great job!’ or some sort of small gesture of gratitude, like a gift certificate. Praise for good work is very well received by people in general. Being told we did something well makes us feel good and gives us a nice boost of confidence. So it is something that needs to be encouraged. This is especially important for team members that might be shy or more introverted in general. The quiet ones are often not vocal about their desire for recognition, but they are usually those that receive it very well.


Being the boss can be hard. But it can also be very rewarding. Key among the success factors for being a good boss ultimately comes down to just being a good and decent person. While that may seem almost corny to state, the so-called ‘golden rule’ applies very well to the notion of management. Treat people they way you would like to be treated. Respect them and they will respect you. Be honest with them and they will be honest with you.

About tomtsongas
Versatile Program/Development Manager with 20 years of diverse background and experience in managing, defining, designing, developing and evangelizing advanced software applications that exceed customer expectations Current responsibilities include: - Coordinating and monitoring the scheduling and technical performance of company programs - Preparation of proposals, plans, specifications, and finalized requirements of various projects - Researching new opportunities and technologies - Ensuring adherence to master plans and schedules - Developing solutions to program problems - Directing work of incumbents assigned to program from various departments while also ensuring projects are completed on time and within budget - Acting as adviser to program teams regarding projects, tasks, and operations.

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