The Chang­ing Role of the Mod­ern Pro­ject Man­ager


The con­struc­tion in­dus­try in Nige­ria has been among the fastest-grow­ing in the world in re­cent years, with projects such as the multi-bil­lion-dol­lar Eko At­lantic City and the US $6 bil­lion La­gos Free Trade Zone Port at its fore.

In fact, the 2014 Deloitte African Con­struc­tion Trends re­port put the coun­try ahead of oth­ers in West Africa in ma­jor in­fra­struc­ture con­struc­tion projects un­der­taken in 2014, with the na­tion spend­ing US $36.5 bil­lion on them in that year. In ad­di­tion, as ma­jor phases of the Abuja Cap­i­tal City de­vel­op­ment plan come on board in the next few years, sig­nif­i­cant pro­ject- man­age­ment chal­lenges will be pre­sented within this sec­tor and else­where.

As projects in the sec­tor con­tinue to grow in scale and com­plex­ity, ef­fec­tive man­age­ment be­comes equally more sig­nif­i­cant. It is not sur­pris­ing, then, that the task of pro­ject man­age­ment is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly more de­mand­ing. Nor is it sur­pris­ing that there has been a no­tice­able in­crease in the de­mand for busi­ness lead­ers with ex­cel­lent pro­ject-man­age­ment skills and ca­pa­bil­i­ties. Where in the past a pro­ject man­ager’s role was to en­sure that projects were de­liv­ered on time and within bud­get, to­day’s pro­ject man­ager is re­quired to pos­sess a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of the broader com­mer­cial is­sues af­fect­ing a pro­ject’s true suc­cess, as well as re­alise a pro­ject to com­ple­tion.

Con­se­quently, key stake­hold­ers in the in­dus­try are re­defin­ing their ex­pec­ta­tions of pro­ject man­agers. They re­alise that they need com­pe­tent and knowl­edge­able in­di­vid­u­als who can han­dle the grow­ing com­plex­ity of projects and their as­so­ci­ated en­vi­ron­ments. What was once a man­age­ment po­si­tion that pri­ori­tised repet­i­tive ex­e­cu­tion of tasks has trans­formed into one of strate­gic lead­er­ship. De­mands are be­ing placed on th­ese pro­fes­sion­als to man­age tasks out­side the tra­di­tional sphere of plan­ning, pro­cure­ment and ex­e­cu­tion. From nav­i­gat­ing re­la­tion­ships with mul­ti­ple stake­hold­ers in di­verse cul­tures to en­sur­ing com­pli­ance with ap­pli­ca­ble govern­ment leg­is­la­tion and best prac­tices, and con­duct­ing due dili­gence, the job de­scrip­tion of a pro­ject man­ager is ever-chang­ing to ac­com­mo­date a wider scope of work. Th­ese ad­di­tional re­spon­si­bil­i­ties ne­ces­si­tate a par­tic­u­lar set of skills for pro­ject man­agers if they are to suc­ceed

in this mul­ti­fac­eted role.

Re­quired skills for to­day’s pro­ject man­ager… Pre­vi­ously, clients viewed pro­ject man­agers more as task co­or­di­na­tors and less as lead­ers. They were ex­pected to de­ploy their skills to en­sure that tasks on pre-pre­pared check­lists were con­cluded on time and to re­port those out­comes to stake­hold­ers. They were rarely in­volved in con­cept de­sign and risk man­age­ment. How­ever, to­day’s pro­ject man­ager no longer sim­ply fo­cuses on pro­cesses. The role has evolved to be­come much more proac­tive and con­sul­ta­tive. Not only must pro­ject man­agers pos­sess a strong un­der­stand­ing of the tech­ni­cal aspects of con­struc­tion and ex­cel­lent man­age­ment skills; they must also be able to think and per­form strate­gi­cally and have the abil­ity to com­pre­hen­sively as­sess both in­ter­nal and ex­ter­nal en­vi­ron­ments with a view to as­cer­tain­ing the need for and vi­a­bil­ity of projects be­fore their im­ple­men­ta­tion.

With pro­ject fund­ing, own­er­ship and con­struc­tion in Nige­ria be­ing man­aged from dif­fer­ent coun­tries and con­ti­nents, pro­ject man­agers must be able to work in part­ner­ship with (as well as co­or­di­nate the ac­tiv­i­ties of) large and di­verse groups of peo­ple from dif­fer­ent coun­tries, cul­tures and pro­fes­sions. They must also be adept at mak­ing sure that goals are achieved in line with pro­jected time­lines while con­stantly en­cour­ag­ing team mem­bers to com­plete tasks with a high de­gree of qual­ity. In or­der to ac­com­plish th­ese tasks as well as strengthen re­la­tion­ships with key stake­hold­ers, the abil­ity to com­mu­ni­cate ef­fec­tively is vi­tal for pro­ject man­agers. For in­stance, pro­ject fun­ders ex­pect pro­ject man­agers to drive projects for­ward and pro­vide reg­u­lar up­dates re­gard­ing im­por­tant is­sues. Con­trac­tors, too, ex­pect pro­ject man­agers to pro­vide the day-to-day li­ai­son with pro­ject fun­ders to ad­just plans to en­sure projects re­main on track, and to man­age re­la­tion­ships to en­sure that spon­sors’ ex­pec­ta­tions are re­alised in a timely fash­ion.

An­other im­por­tant skill for the new breed of pro­ject man­agers is the abil­ity to grasp the big pic­ture to­wards em­pow­er­ing them to es­tab­lish per­for­mance base­lines, proac­tively man­age projects to en­sure timely de­liv­ery and ul­ti­mately sup­ply the re­sults needed to achieve busi­ness goals. Be­cause pro­ject man­agers’ de­ci­sions af­fect over­all cost, pro­ject qual­ity and ul­ti­mately prof­itabil­ity, they must be able to en­vis­age and deal with un­fore­seen con­tin­gen­cies that may af­fect pro­cesses at each stage of the pro­ject’s life cy­cle. Fur­ther­more, mod­ern pro­ject man­age­ment thought ac­knowl­edges that the suc­cess of a pro­ject is not judged solely by suc­cess­ful ex­e­cu­tion and com­ple­tion, but by the un­der­stand­ing of the client’s ul­ti­mate busi­ness ob­jec­tives and the broader suc­cess of th­ese.

Ex­pand­ing skillsets through ad­vanced education… It is there­fore com­pul­sory for to­day’s pro­ject man­agers to not only pos­sess strong tech­ni­cal skills, but also be pro­fi­cient in man­ag­ing aspects that are be­yond the scope of th­ese tech­ni­cal ar­eas in or­der to suc­cess­fully ac­com­plish pro­ject ob­jec­tives. Be­cause of this, in­dus­try pro­fes­sion­als are recog­nis­ing the need for ad­vanced education to gain the crit­i­cal skills and es­sen­tial knowl­edge to ad­vance in their ca­reers.

The Univer­sity of Roe­hamp­ton, Lon­don On­line’s MSc in Pro­ject Man­age­ment, which is ac­cred­ited by the As­so­ci­a­tion for Pro­ject Man­agers in the UK, is de­signed to meet the present­day needs of pro­fes­sion­als in this field. The pro­gramme builds core com­pe­ten­cies and the es­sen­tial knowl­edge and skills re­quired to drive projects from con­cept to com­ple­tion; hone their com­mu­ni­ca­tion, peo­ple and plan­ning skills; gain a deep un­der­stand­ing of the key pre­req­ui­sites for suc­cess­ful pro­ject man­age­ment; and help them strate­gise and see the big pic­ture.

As the pro­gramme is fully on­line, stu­dents can ben­e­fit from a flex­i­ble pro­gramme that de­vel­ops crit­i­cal think­ing while also pro­vid­ing pro­fes­sion­als with the op­por­tu­nity to en­gage with peers in sim­i­lar roles across the globe to gain in­sights into mod­ern pro­ject-man­age­ment is­sues.

Given the re­cent changes to ex­pec­ta­tions, it is ap­par­ent that pro­ject man­agers are as­sum­ing a new sta­tus in con­struc­tion as the de­mands of that in­dus­try con­tinue to evolve. Th­ese changes are likely to strengthen and val­i­date the evolv­ing role of the pro­ject man­ager as a leader in con­struc­tion.

Dr. Peter Ator­ough is a fac­ulty mem­ber for the Univer­sity of Roe­hamp­ton, Lon­don On­line pro­ject man­age­ment pro­grammes.

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