On combining the duties of the manager and executive during the projects: don’t be fools.

Half-milord, half-merchant,
Half-sage, half-ignoramus,
Half-scoundrel, but there’s a hope
That he will be a full one at last.
A.S. Pushkin

Not long time ago I reminded once again to the dear readers of my blog about the impermissibility of combining the role of manager with any other executive roles. I was asked to express this idea in more details. As you please. 🙂

I’ll remind you that the main thesis is the following: one of the biggest mistakes that a project-manager, especially as a beginner, can make is to get employed on the position of the manager, but to fulfil the duties of other employees. It is detrimental both for the manager in question and for his employer. Here is why.

1. Time is a very limited resource. There are only 24 hours a day, of which no more than 8-9 hours could be dedicated to productive work, and it is according to a very optimistic estimation. Imagine that you were entrusted with a difficult project, and it depends only on you if it will be realized smoothly and relatively peacefully or if it will stumble at every step. It depends on you and only on you if the client will be satisfied with the quality of the work, its speed and budget you might require. You and only you are responsible for the people who are working on this project under your guidance. While taking time to the non-manager tasks, you are not doing what you should and what you are expected to do.

If you can manage difficult (!) projects combining several roles at a time, please do give me your contact and I will gladly take several lessons from you. Unfortunately, I have never met such people even if I have been in this business for quite a while. The profession of the manager didn’t appear out of nowhere and for no reason, believe me. If you are a good «generalist», it simply means that you have never tackled any difficult and complex projects (it’s high time to try one out).

Basically, only the time-limit should be enough to give up the idea of roles combining. However, there are still no less weighty arguments.

2. Developing your competences as a manager while combining the roles is impossible. Every project teaches us something. Meeting the formerly unfamiliar problems and trying to solve them develop our managerial competences. The profession of manager is a fusion of psychology, common sense, logic, malice, shrewdness, suspiciousness, aim-orientation, obligation to follow the instructions, capacity to non-standard solutions, desire to search the common language and negotiate with people, firmness while defending his points of view, ability to foresee the next steps and do a lot of tasks at the same time. And millions of more things. It is possible to learn to be such manager, provided you are learning.

Those who dedicate their time to no less interesting technical issues but that are completely useless for the manager, steal from themselves an opportunity to develop their managerial skills. If you don’t like managing, why are you doing it then? Improve your competence as a specialist – it is no less honorable and sometimes even no less profitable. Understand that manager is not the top of evolution, but just one of its branches. You don’t have to be a manager to have a decent life and to feel good.

3. Increasing your competences as a specialist while combining the roles is impossible as well. Instead of doing interesting for you technical tasks, you will be immersed into the squabbles in your team, washing dirty linens, getting in the neck from dull-witted superiors for what have done or what haven’t done other people that you might have even never seen in your life. You will stuck in the bureaucracy, you will have to deal with the endless paper-work. Do you really need that? When you can focus only on beautiful tasks, neatly solve them, and progressively become an expert – even guru – in the chosen domain.

4. Managing any serious project while combining the roles is impossible. It follows directly from the previous points. Serious big projects mean playing in an adult way. It is physically impossible to get into the executive field due to the large scope, big teams dispersion etc. Moreover, there are so many directions of activity that even while wedging into your own and familiar one, you won’t be able to influence this way on the entire project. Only professional managers that are actually managing instead of eagerly doing the low-level tasks can tackle these complicated projects.
If you are known for your love to the² roles combining, you will never get an occasion to work with serious projects in serious companies – you will be dealing exclusively with the small things. If you want a serious project – forget about the roles combining.

5. If you interfere into others’ work – why have you employed them then? Indeed, why? Are you afraid or don’t you trust them? You can’t delegate the tasks? You are not satisfied with the quality of their work? There is an answer for each of these questions, but they must be found in the managing domain and not in the executive one. Do not interfere in the other people’s work. The projects can be realized only because there are people who can entirely trust to the professionalism of the others.

6. Who will be responsible for your technologic solutions? Let’s imagine that you took upon yourself certain part of executive functions and did a certain task. After one month, it was found out that this task had been done poorly and the result was good for nothing. The reasons are not important. Are you ready to take the responsibility for this? Are you ready to do it over now and do it over and over again? And what about the other duties? What will you say to the project sponsor? And to the client? Or how are you going to talk about this failure, that might be quite serious? As the manager or as the person who actually failed? And if as the manager, how should you deal with this incompetent (in other’s opinion) people? And when will you solve other managing problems then?

Remember: if there is a mistake found in your work, and one can always be found if someone really wants it, you will be responsible not only for these mistakes, but for all mistakes of the project whenever and whoever made them.

You will be pointed at with the words: “He was there as well!” Don’t worry, you will be pointed at anyway, but at least it won’t be connected with the technical details of the project. Imagine, we are football players during the World Cup (that I can’t stand), and we are just playing a decisive game. Suddenly we see our coach who turns up on the field, pushes the goalkeeper and tries to protect the gates himself. A goal scored. Who missed the ball? The coach who was supposed to do something else. At this moment, nothing matters any more: there are no more beautiful schemes, inspiring speeches, subtle tactics, as well as his former achievements. There is only an aged man who decided to solve the tasks that he was not supposed to solve. His future is quite predictable and sad. What should be done with the goalkeeper in such cases is clear as well. He can be replaced, sent to the course of qualifications upgrade, he can be stimulated in all possible ways. What about the coach then?

7. While combining the roles, you will never be considered by your team as a manager again. You are just one of them. One can ask you to do a task. One can point at your mistakes. One can laugh at the quality of your work. You are not in the attacking part anymore, but you are in the derriere-garde of the project. However, with all this you are still responsible for the all mentioned above managerial tasks, including the work with people and their stimulation. In many countries, including Russia, the role model is beyond reasonable comprehension: you can’t spend the evening drinking beer with your colleague Peter and the next day be told off by your manager Peter – it blows the mind away. You might be saying to yourself: look, it’s Peter, last week he even didn’t know how to do the simplest task, he even kept asking me about them. Why is he lecturing me now for something… All of a sudden.

An important idea must be cleared: as soon as the manager interferes into the work of the project-team, starts “helping” as a specialist, he stops being a manager. From the outside point of view, from the “bird’s eye view” it’s neither good nor bad – simply the person in question does one work, while not doing the other. But we are not birds, we are always down here. And what we see is a person who was charged, even entrusted!, with a project, a person whose ability to manage people and achieve goals was chosen above everything, but instead of all this he is immersed into accountability, he is programming something, or he is lying under a truck covered with oil. Honorably, but useless. You will never be able to cover all the spots. Instead, you’ll just stop being manager – for yourself, for your team, for the client and for your superiors. It’s up to you to decide who and why you want to be.

Keep in mind though: for the manager combining the managerial and executive duties is not only harmful – it’s fatal.


This article was translated to English by Valeriia Arnaud. Original article can be found here.

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Sergey Kolganov

Sergey has 15+ year experience in project management as a Project/Program Manager and Head of Project Management Department. MS in Applied Mathematics and Computer Science.

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