Apparently, “Project Manager” means different things to different people.

I came across a post in my LinkedIn feed from a PM from Bahrain, Eman Deabil, who sparked a healthy debate about whether “Project Manager” is a real title and “Project Management” is a real profession.

The crux of Eman’s argument is that project management is actually a set of interrelated skills that need to be developed by the person who is in charge of managing a project. These skills differ depending on the project, and especially depending on the industry in which the project will take place. For example, managing a project in IT requires a separate set of competencies than a project in the eLearning space.

No PM is One Size Fits All

Eman cites her concerns with the current PMP certification process, which she feels assumes that people who obtain this credential can go on to successfully coordinate a project in any industry. She simply doesn’t think this is the case. A Project Manager must not only have project management skills, but also the appropriate academic credentials and experience in the industry at hand.

Project Manager, she says, isn’t even a genuine title. Rather, titles related to project management should be much more descriptive – for instance adding details on the person’s line of business or type of project (e.g. Project Manager in Supply Chain). Instead of being asked to choose whether they are principally involved in project management or learning and development, for instance, professionals being considered for new positions should say they are “Project Managers in Learning and Development.”

I see Eman’s point, although I do think that transferable skills – or those that are appropriate across a wide range of industries and roles – are especially useful when it comes to project management. No matter what industry or business line you manage projects in, you’d better know how to lead disparate teams, coordinate multi-functional activities, manage timelines and budgets, monitor and report on progress, and analyze results.

What Comes First, the Chicken or the Egg?

Can a Project Manager get certification (or obtain essential PM knowledge in another way) and then master the technicalities associated with a particular field, or must the field knowledge be present first, before someone can learn to be an effective Project Manager? Is it truly possible for Project Managers to easily switch industries as long as their PM skills remain intact and up-to-date? There doesn’t appear to be a clear cut answer.

Among the audience of PMs on LinkedIn, some people agree with Eman while others vehemently disagree. Says Ali Al Noory, a PM and training and development manager: “I’ve managed construction projects as well as training projects, and there are limited general skills that can be used for both. However, the industry knowledge is a must, and many of the skills associated with it are non-transferable.”

Samer Abdel Maksoudat, Ali Bin Technology Solutions counter-argues: “The project manager is the Maestro – he can’t play all the instruments himself but he is necessary to deliver a successfully concert.” Adds Mohammed Abu Shammalah at Turner Construction Company: “From the experience I have dealing with lots of PMs, I can say that a PM is not required to understand all of the technology related to the industry because he already has within his team qualified technical people.”

Based on the trajectory of your own PM career, what do you think?

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