Should Senior Leadership be Hands-on in the PM Process?

How much involvement and help do we want from our company's senior leadership in our daily project lives and in our overall project management process? Is heavy involvement a good thing...a desirable thing?

I’ll admit that I, for one, am not one to want too much involvement from above.  I'd prefer that I keep them informed and they maintain a distance and ask questions when they need information (then I will make sure that info is on the next status report that I send to them next week).  Honestly, when I’m leading a project for a customer and I’m getting conflicting signals from senior management that seems to not be in the best interest of the project or my client, I’m skeptical.  And bad direction or advice from a PMO Director has caused at least one significant project cancellation that certainly could have been avoided.

That said, it’s our responsibility, as employees, to follow and submit to those in authority over us.  It’s critical to our organizations and to our careers to keep our senior leadership informed of our project’s status and major issues or concerns we may have.  Plus, if we do a good job of tying our senior leadership into our projects and PM practices and keeping them abreast of our project schedules using our chosen web-based project management software tool, some very good things can actually happen.  Our projects can gain visibility, our PMOs and PM processes can gain key backing and relevance, and our customers can become more confident in our organization’s ability to meet their needs and spend their project dollars wisely.

Here are some very positive ways we can utilize our senior leadership to further our cause as project managers and avoid or overcome obstacles on our engagements:

Keep leadership informed.  On a weekly basis, provide not only your customer and project delivery team with status reports, project schedules, and status meeting minutes, but also your executive leadership.  Whether they are actually using any project management software themselves is irrelevant.  You can still give them schedules and reports in PDF format so that they are aware – at least on a cursory level – of your project and what tasks are happening right now.  At the very least, they now know who your customer is and what your project is about.  At the most, they become interested and can knock down barriers for you if issues arise.  Remember, the squeaky wheel gets the grease.  They can’t do anything for you if they don’t know you or your project.

Use their involvement periodically to boost customer comfort.  Certainly, a very frustrated customer may go over your head as the project manager and take complaints or concerns to the PMO Director or even as high as the CEO.  I’ve seen customers take project issues to the CEO and the outcome is never positive for the project manager.  

However, a wise PM can also use senior leadership to their project’s advantage where the customer is concerned.  It’s important to keep senior leadership tied into your project’s status by giving them reports from your online project management software tool.  But go a significant step further.  Invite the CEO or other senior management to attend periodic status meetings with the client.  This will make that client feel ‘important’ and it will give them the confidence that their project is critical to the delivery organization and that you – as the project manager – are in an influential position to make things happen for them when necessary.  Plus, it now gives you an informed ally at the top of the organization should a need arise on the engagement.

Get their buy-in for the PM processes and infrastructure.  From my experience, a fledgling project management office (PMO) cannot survive without executive buy-in.  Without backing from senior management, key funding and key projects are often assigned to special interests within the organization – completely circumventing the PMO personnel and process.  When this happens often enough or on the largest, most visible projects, the end of the PMO is near.  But with a proper PMO budget and executive backing of the established PM processes, other areas of the organization will understand its significance and, over time, adopt the PMO as an integral part of the organization.

Summary / call for input

The bottom line is this - we want buy-in and support from our company's senior leadership.  Both for our project management infrastructure and for each of our project.  How much?  Well, that depends, but you likely don't want them helping you make daily decisions.  And you don't want them sitting there wondering how that high profile project you are leading - that they are counting on – is going.  So keep them somewhat involved and keep them well-informed.  If they never read what you give them, then that's their choice but at least you've done your part.  But if you let them sit by and idly wonder, that's when they will really get involved.

How about our readers?  What do you feel about senior management involvement in the PMO or PM process and in your projects?  Is it heavy involvement in your organization, minimal, or non-existent?  Please share and discuss.


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