With that said, here are five things that I feel most CEOs – and probably most C-level executives in any organization – can learn from the experienced project manager who must focus on today, tomorrow and 12 months down the road on every engagement he leads….
Managing the customer. Most CEOs aren’t intimately involved with each customer or with customer management. Handling each customer properly, assessing needs, making sure they are being served correctly, making sure they are happy, and that their real needs are being met is what the project manager’s job is all about. At least from a customer management perspective. The CEO who steps back and takes a good look at his customer landscape and learns to interact with each one to some extent…not just the ones who mean the most to the organization’s bottom line…will have the opportunity to play a significant role in those customers’ satisfaction and the customer retention rate of the organization. Without the customers, there would be no company.
Financial management. The CEO and many Cxx execs in the organization have to be concerned about the bottom line financially. But that’s usually at a very high or broad level. And with an entire staff devoted to the details – including a CFO calling all the financial shots - the CEO is only making very broad financial decisions in most cases. The CEO could learn a lot from the experienced project manager who is responsible daily for the financial status of each of his projects currently and how the big picture for the project looks between now and the end of each engagement. Will it complete over budget or under budget and what actions need to be taken today, tomorrow and next month to correct any overruns? It’s not practical for the CEO to examine all financial aspects of the organization that closely, but the ability to stay focused on problem areas like that and make decisions for today – not just next year – could be very beneficial and eye-opening for the CEO.
Using the right resources at the right time. Resource usage is another area where the project manager hopefully excels and could teach the CEO some lessons. Resources are constantly at the disposal of the CEO – that’s a given. But the wise project manager must plan resource usage so as not to cause harm to the project budgets he is overseeing. Wise resource planning and management is a key aspect of ongoing profitability for projects and for the organization.
Negotiation - real negotiation. CEOs were probably great negotiators at one time – that may be how they rose to their current position. But most project managers are faced with many key negotiation points during each project they are managing. They need a resource…that often requires some negotiation. Need a change order pushed through? More negotiation. It’s a skill and a great business strategy. Most CEOs could probably use a refresher course.
Asking probing questions. Finally, in order to just get the project started on the right course the project manager must be asking probing questions of the customer right from the outset. It’s necessary in order to completely define the requirements of the engagement and to understand where the project is going, what the customer wants and needs, and what their end users are truly expecting. The CEO is given lots of information, but to verify the information they are getting and to ensure they are keeping the organization on the right path, they still must be excellent communicators and they must be very good at asking probing questions.
The bottom line is that CEOs see the big picture and have to always be thinking of how that big picture affects their organization as a whole. Or at least they think that is how they have to think. The project manager is more concerned about today and the more immediate future of each project he is managing. The CEO could definitely learn things from the project manager that would bring his view down from the 10,000-foot level to more of the day to day operations. It may be especially helpful if the organization is experiencing an financial struggles or other issues.