The Author's View
It is my contention that a project manager should be able to work across different industries and disciplines. So does Janis Rizzuto in an article written for the project manager web site called "Projects at Work":
"Since project management is an evolving profession, there's an ongoing debate about what it means to be a project manager. Some say project management skills are easily transported from job to job while others are convinced that project management skills are only useful when blended with industry-specific knowledge. Opinions are often tied to project managers' own career choices. Some embrace job changes and the challenge of the unknown; others prefer sticking with one field, building expertise based on experience."
Either way, nobody disputes the value of some industry-specific knowledge, so the question becomes how much is necessary for project success? There's no one right amount. It depends on individual comfort levels and whether project managers tend to emphasize the "project" or the "manager" in their title. People who focus on the "project" think a thorough understanding of industry details is critical. People who accentuate the "manager" rely on the expertise of their team. Since both words are essential, there's room for all opinions.
Hal Lunka, PMP, an associate of Omega Management Education Group in Denver, takes a broad view on the transferability of project management skills. "Project management is a life skill, not an industry-specific skill. It's how to get work done," says Lunka. Lunka used to run projects developing high-tech products; now he organizes educational programs. The shift made the mechanical engineer believe even more that project management is not about the technical stuff. "Project managers are about bringing in change," he says. "The toughest part is dealing with people's resistance to change."
Mary Jernigan agrees with Lunka's people-focused philosophy. That's why she looks not to herself but to others for technical expertise. "Project management is about people skills and communication, not about being a technical expert. That's what your team is for," she says. In April, Jernigan started a project manager job at Exempla Healthcare in Denver. Her background is in database marketing and web development, so it's a challenge to stay afloat in a sea of new medical terminology, she says. Jernigan's strong, trusting bond with her team is her lifeline. "I approach people with respect," she says. "I tell them that I bring something to the table that isn't what they bring to the table. We cannot be a success without both of us."
Good project managers bring oversight, says Vincent Alcalde, a project manager at Interpacific Data Management Limited in Hong Kong. "Managing a project means you are not doing any of the hands-on work yourself, so you don't need to spend time learning new technical skills," he says. "But you need to humbly and thoroughly understand the risks present in the project. That means having competent people from various disciplines advising you."
Jernigan says project managers who fear trusting their team are probably too cynical. "Either you believe that your team, like yourself, has the best interests of the project at heart, or you believe that people are just out for themselves. If you have a good relationship with your team, they will have no reason to snow you."
In many cases, however, project managers feel more comfortable having basic technical knowledge. Consider for example, Adrienne Keane, PMP, project manager of professional services at Cisco Systems in Irvine, California. She switched from developing internal systems at Mitsubishi Motors to implementing external client networks at Cisco. Her first project was a $30 million network up-grade for a major biotech firm. "I knew a thimble's-worth about networking," she says. But she worked hard to learn quickly.
She studied networking principles and technologies and got a Cisco networking certification. Her efforts built credibility with the client and project engineers. And while Keane was cramming in network knowledge, she made sure to highlight her expertise. "I sold the skills that I have, such as communication skills, organizational skills, planning, issue management, risk assessment and being a facilitator." Keane also says there are benefits to not grasping every technical nuance. "You don't micromanage [simply] because you don't know enough."
18. Rizzuto, J, , Any which way, http://www.projectsatwork.com/content/articles/217339.cfm August 2002
19. Rizzuto, J.