The Changing Role of the Social Project Manager – Part 1

The project management 2.0 movement sought to eliminate the role of the project manager completely, replacing centralized management of projects with a sort of egalitarian utopian vision for co-management. What project management 2.0 could not do, project managers themselves will do if they ignore the social wave in project management. The business process landscape is changing, and project managers need to adapt to remain relevant.

Project managers usually have influence that is out of scale to their productivity. Before you jump down my throat, I do not mean that project managers don’t work hard, or aren’t important. What I do mean is that project managers influence has historically not been based upon what they themselves produce, but is based upon the key role that they played in the social network of an organization. This role most often worked out as intermediary between two groups that had very little overlap – namely the executive or management team, and the project team. We must never forget that the project manager’s role has always been social, even before social technology, but with the rise of social technology, the focus on the social component of the project manager’s role is shifting even more to the forefront.

A recent article posted at TechRepublic highlights this shift (they summarize this Harvard Business Review article). They highlight four skills that are defined as critical for collaborative managers:

  1. Become a global connector
  2. Engage peripheral talent
  3. Collaborate at the top
  4. Show a strong hand

While these are skills that are necessary for any collaborative leader, when operating in a social software enabled environment, these skills become at the same time easier to exercise, and more critical.  So, how does social business software help?

First and foremost, social business software platforms like IBM Connections or Jive SBS provide the foundation for social networking inside the firewall, and across partnership chains. Without the presence of social networking software, little actually changes. In order to connect and engage, one must rely on the available social network. When that social network is not online, it is the person’s personal social network. However, when the company’s social network is digitized, it becomes a resource to mine for opportunities to connect and engage.

However, while this visible, digital, social network is an enormous resource for the project manager, it is also a game changer. In a social collaboration environment, access to the team can no longer be managed by the PM. Some PMs may sense this is as a loss of power and control, and in environments where power and control are valued, it probably is.

Project managers who rely on position-driven power and control of communication will fail in a collaborative social-networked organization. As fallen dictators around the world have learned, a networked group of people cannot be controlled. However, they can be led.

Leaders connect and engage the right people to get the job done, and allow them to work (within some defined boundaries) to accomplish the goal. The project management role will change from one of commander of the team to one of enabler of the team. By connecting the team to the right parts of the social network, the social project manager enables the team, reduces their own role as knowledge and communication conduit, while increasing their visibility as connector and leader. Project managers like that generate good will from their team members, and develop rich networks of willing resources for the next project they lead.

Nothing could be further from the truth than to say that the role of the project manager is over. Teams, especially collaborative teams, still need a directly responsible individual – and that person is the project manager.

We’ll continue this discussion in part two, and discuss how social project management software helps the project manager to balance the structure of the project management process, with the emergence of the social collaborative paradigm…next week!


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