What is an accidental project manager? Simply put, it is someone who acts as a project manager, but has never been trained as one. Often times, this person is not officially given the title of “Project Manager,” even though they perform the functions of one. In those cases, the accidental PM is often juggling two jobs – the workload that falls under their official job title, and the workload that falls under the scope of project management. What is it like to be an accidental project manager, and can a project run smoothly when its manager has no formal training?
We talked to one former accidental project manager who worked for a large, national healthcare organization. Aside from handling her everyday administrative duties, she suddenly found herself taking charge of a major project…and then another…and then another. We asked her a few questions to better understand what it is like to be an accidental project manager.
Q: When you were acting as an “accidental” PM, what was your official title?
I was the Front Office Supervisor for an outpatient pulmonary clinic.
Q: What was the first project that you managed?
I was asked to locate, organize, and archive all past patient records related to OWCP (Workers’ Compensation) claims.
Q: How many people worked on this project, and how long did it last?
There were about five of us. Because we were all working on the project in our spare time, it took about a year to complete. If we had just one person dedicated to it full-time, it could have been done in, maybe three months, at the most.
Q: What was the hardest part about that project?
At that point, I was pretty new in the office. Everyone wanted to do things their own way, and no official project manager was designated. I had the most time to spend on the project, so I had created a plan and system for getting the work done. But because I wasn’t officially “in charge,” it was hard to get the cooperation of the others on the team.
Q: Did things get easier as time went on?
To some extent. The next project was a transition from one EMR system to another. This was a while later, and I had gained a lot of respect in the office, so no one had a problem when the office manager asked me to help lead the transition. But, the project was still very challenging for me. We had an outside IT team who was managing the project, but I was in charge of coordination between this outside team and our office. I did my best, and it turned out fine, but everything felt very chaotic; I didn’t always have the right person’s contact information or the right software. I just wish I had been given a little more direction before the project started.
Q: What’s one thing you wish employers knew about project management?
Your employees are smart, and adaptable, and capable. And they can probably manage to complete some projects without extra training. But that doesn’t mean it’s the best way to handle project management. Every time a new project was given to me, it was a big stress, and the lack of support from upper management was a big reason for me leaving that company. If the organization had provided project management training, things would have gone a lot more smoothly – for me, and for the company.
A Better Way to Manage Projects
It seems clear that this is simply not an efficient way of running a project, so why are 30% of project managers still accidental? If the above stories sound all-too-familiar, consider having your “Accidental Project Manager” become a certified Project Management Professional, and see how much smoother future projects run.