The scale, the mirror, the referee (Project Manager rant on roles, responsibilities)

My stomach made a creaking, shifting sound like an old battleship. I looked at the others in the conference room and they looked back at me, waiting for my reaction, would I acknowledge the sound and be embarrassed by it, or apologize? Neither. I glared back at them, my stomach groaned again, and they returned to their devices. I could tell they were pretending to read something else, not my face.

In Outlook, it said the conference room held eight, and it did barely. I moved to the corner and got boxed in by the others; I positioned my chair at an angle so I could address the opposite end of the table, and the source of the angriest comments and feedback. I had my back to the CAD support people.

I straightened my spine and spoke with confidence, barely hanging on to an agenda I had printed out and put in my head, which they were trying to replace with an agenda of their own.

There’s a veneer of composure and posturing we put on things in the corporate world (and in the Pacific Northwest, where we shy from intimacy and directness). That veneer clouds and confuses already complicated topics, in a consensus-culture where “responsibility” and “accountability” get muddled, then used as passive aggressive talking points in meetings you’re not invited to.

I plotted a matrix listing the 20 people involved in a construction project on the X-axis, and the key deliverables across the top, on the Y. With the “RACI” roles and responsibilities tool, you have Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, Informed.

I tried to simplify the chart to just R, A, and C…and even so, there’s nothing simple about it. Even with color coding. I emailed it out and no one replied.

Project managers have to manage the work, plan definition, and hardest of all, personalities. You can’t learn the latter in a book or a classroom and if you can’t do it well, all your technical efforts won’t matter.

The project manager is always in the middle, whether they should be or not. You’re the messenger, and the message is always bad: We’re late, it cost more than we thought, we have an issue, we might have an issue, I need more of your time, we need to define roles…

No one wants to hear any of that but it’s all true. The PM is the scale, the mirror, the referee, the voice of truth we’d rather ignore because we can, and we know we can get away with it.

The effective PM is a mirror that talks back and makes you listen, convinces you to change your habits, makes the right call most of the time, measures consistently and doesn’t get in the way of the others.

It’s why I fell asleep on the recliner last night watching old R.E.M. videos and writing bad commentary about them. To let go the enormity of the job, detach from it, let muscle memory rebuild and compensate, next week.

About pinklightsabre

William Pearse publishes memoir, travel journals, poetry and prose, and lives in the Pacific Northwest.
This entry was posted in humor, humour and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to The scale, the mirror, the referee (Project Manager rant on roles, responsibilities)

  1. Sometimes I feel this: “Our job is a why bother.” Sorry you were exhausted Friday night and fell asleep on the recliner. It beats insomnia, however.


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