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The everyday project manager

Adeline Teoh ed.
March 25, 2013

The author Margaret Atwood once met a brain surgeon at a party. After some small talk, the surgeon mentioned that he planned to write a book upon retirement. Atwood’s response is apocryphal, but worth recounting: “Really? When I retire, I plan on taking up brain surgery.”

A long time ago, when I was first out of university, when people asked what I did for a living I would say I was a journalist. The occupation carried some weight; it more or less said ‘you might read newspapers and magazines but what I do needs special talent and training’. Nowadays, I usually just say I’m a writer because I write so many things that aren’t journalistic that it’s more accurate to describe my job by the broader umbrella.

The problem I’ve found is that after people take a guess at what I write—”Oh! Newspapers or magazines?” “Er, online actually”—they mention some writing related hobby they occasionally dabble in, sporadic poetry or the novel they’ve been working on since 1993. And there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just that… it’s just that it’s not comparable to having writing as a career.

When you choose your occupation (or, let’s face it, when it chooses you) there is a particular obligation, nay dedication, you have to it. Dabblers and hobbyists may put pen to paper or finger to keyboard when inspiration hits them, but where are they when words abandon them just before deadline? (It’s 2.01am as I write this. I’m understandably quite tired.)

I suspect something similar happens to project managers for much the same reason. Just like people who can string a sentence together think they can just become a writer, too many say they’re a project manager just because they ‘manage projects’. It takes skills, experience and knowledge to be a professional project manager, so it’s a shame there’s such a poor understanding of what it really takes to deliver a project when people left, right and centre are calling almost anything, from crocheting a blanket to planning a holiday, a ‘project’.

So I just wanted to say I understand. Although I deal with schedules, scope, budgets and stakeholders I know I am not a project manager, but I salute you. Project management recognised as a discrete and specialised discipline—are we there yet?

Adeline Teoh ed.
Adeline Teoh is the editor of She has more than a decade of publishing experience in the fields of business and education, and has specialised in writing about project management since 2007.
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