For Project Managers, It's About Professional Respect, Not Money

"It's not the money, honey" was one senior project manager's parting line in his exit interview with his CIO. And that project manager is by no means unique. Recently, I interviewed seven senior project managers (with compensation packages that ranged from $155,000 to $245,000, plus performance bonuses) who each had taken a new position -- at 11% to 19% lower pay.

The primary reason these managers cited for leaving their bigger paychecks for new jobs was professional respect. Each cited one or more of the following reasons for changing jobs.

A lack of trust. A project manager who left his job because he didn't feel trusted had initially been promised ample authority over project budgets. But in fact, the CIO had to approve even minor expenditures. The CIO's lack of trust resulted in the manager's loss of credibility among team members, who knew the manager had little authority and would overrule his deadlines.

Important information withheld. The CIO and senior managers involved with a project would withhold important information about new initiatives, scope changes, vendor contracts and policy decisions. The information would trickle down during meetings, making the project manager appear uninformed.

Not a member of the inner circle. The CIO surrounded himself with a circle of sycophants who had the last word on decisions. The inner circle would interfere with and undermine the project manager's decisions without explaining why. When these decisions backfired, the inner circle would accuse the project manager of failing to provide the right information.

A no-win situation. In an effort to make improvements, the CIO would ask his project manager for anonymous feedback about the manager's boss. But then, contrary to his promise, the CIO would reveal what the project manager had said. If the project manager didn't provide feedback, he was accused of being uncooperative.

A diminished role. The CIO and other managers would habitually arrive late to project meetings and then take over. Frequently, they would revisit decisions that had already been made, and the manager's views would be ignored. The views of senior project team members had greater influence than those of the project manager.

Glory goes to others. All seven project managers said that their organizational contributions hadn't been recognized. Whenever the IT department organized a celebration of success, project managers were overlooked; those getting high fives were clients and senior-level managers.

No career path. When one project manager complained to the CIO about a lack of career development, the CIO said, "I don't know what to do with you going forward." Human resources was no help, telling the project manager that it was his boss's responsibility to create a career development plan. The project manager literally had nowhere to go but to a different organization.

My research indicates that the cost associated with turnover of a project manager's position is $75,000. The cost to end users is certainly more. Do you know how many project managers have left your organization in the past year and why?

Gopal K. Kapur is president of the Center for Project Management in San Ramon, Calif., and author of Project Management for Information, Technology, Business and Certification. To comment on this story, email ProjectExpert@ciodecisions.com.

This was first published in April 2006

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