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This article is a follow-up on two prior posts that we published recently. It is also in response to various online exchanges on the topic of Accidental Project Manager.
The previous articles were:

The Definitions

In the previous articles, we discussed the concept of the accidental project managers and why do we give them such a title.
In short, for those who did not read the prior articles; the accidental project manager is a term we use to refer to a professional who “stumbled upon” project management when their managers ask them to manage a project.

The Challenge to Executives

Going through the hurdles on the project life cycleThe following are excerpts from one of our books, Redefining the Basics of Project Management.  In the book, we raise a “point to ponder”; or a challenge to executives.
We want to challenge executives to consider the risks associated with the concept of the accidental project manager and reconsider the situations that lead to appointing accidental project managers. We do not want to eliminate the conditions, rather, we want executives to ponder how to minimize effectively the threats and maximize the opportunities caused by this syndrome.
Once again, we must stress that we are not against the concept, on the contrary, and we stated so in our prior articles. Just a reflection, the majority of project managers today started out as accidental project managers.
Project management is a dynamic field and some label it “an emerging profession”, where a large percent of its practitioners do not have formal education or training in this domain. Many of its practitioners are technical [1] or functional [2] specialists who are reliable professionals and, as a result, are trusted to manage projects for one reason or another. Further, executives expect them to perform, in the new role as project managers, at the same level that they have performed in their working domain or field of study. This is what we call “the executive accidental project manager syndrome.”
In light of the above, the point to ponder – the challenge – is:
Do you generally agree that the above practice is common?
If no, we still ask you to read on and challenge the point that we present here.
If yes, then we move on and expand the previous point into a two parts question:

  1. Why do you think executives and senior managersassign non-project managers and those with no training or education in project management the responsibility to manage projects?
  2. Why do you think these executivesexpect the accidental project managers to perform in project management at the same level as their performance in their educational or professional domain?

More to Consider

Let us look at these questions from different angles.

  • Would any of us go to a hospital administrator to seek medical checkup or surgery?
  • Would you go to a legal assistant to defend you in a court case?
  • Would you even go to a butcher shop to buy your bread?
  • Do you ask a marketing major to fix a computer?

If we do not do any of these things then why do we assign the management of projects to other than project managers and continue to expect good or even excellent performance? More questions, maybe in the gray for some:

  • Can an excellent practicing civil engineer immediately step up and manage the development of a major structure or facility?
  • Can a good computer engineer step up and manage a major telecommunication infrastructure project?
  • Can a human resource expert all of a sudden manage an organizational change project?

We do agree and believe that many technical and functional professionals can learn how to manage projects – and some become experts. However, they must be properly trained before the assignment and not learn under fire or put into a sink or swim situations; the possibility and price of failure are extremely high for the individual and for the organization.
We make these decisions then wonder why projects fail, or maybe we should be more politically correct and say why projects are not successful!


What do you think?

  • Do you think the concept is acceptable under any condition? … or …
  • The concept is not acceptable under any condition. … or …
  • The concept is acceptable given certain conditions. In this case, what do you think the conditions should be?

[1] Technical refers to any technical domain such as engineering, computer science, technology, etc.
[2] Functional is used here to refer to any organizational function such as human resource, finance, marketing, business development, strategic planning, etc.
For all the accidental project managers out in the world, welcome the opportunity to manage a project, and it may change your life. If the organization gives you the task without getting you ready, prepare on your own, seek the new knowledge, and best of all learn how to apply it.
We wish you an enjoyable and exciting journey of learning and growth.
To help you, SUKAD has published multiple books and e-books. The e-books published with Bookboon.com are available for you to download at NO COST.
This initial version of this article was originally published in September 2012. It is updated and republished in April 2015.

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