5 Tips CEOs Should Take from Project Managers

Lessons from PMs

The CEO is in charge and likely arrived in their position through leadership, success, and doing the right things, right? One would think that the CEO has it all together – surely there’s nothing more the CEO can learn.  They’re at the top of their game – the pinnacle of their profession. Here’s the problem, the typical CEO has to maintain a fairly high level of focus on the organization as a whole.  Certainly they regularly face new challenges in their jobs.  But these challenges are broad and often happening on a very large scale.  They aren’t necessarily making decisions on detailed issues at the speed of light as can often be the case for most project managers.  In order to survive and just hope to emerge with a somewhat successful project, project managers must inherently exemplify the five characteristics or skills that I’ve listed in this article.  CEOs on the other hand, could learn a lot from project managers in these areas and would undoubtedly emerge as better leaders of their organizations for it. 

In my opinion, five key things that CEOs can learn from project managers - in no particular order - are: 

Focus on the Customer 

CEOs are used to dealing with…well…other CEOs.  In addition they are working with their company board, leaders at some of their top customers and even the press.  But again, they aren’t usually in a position to deal with the day-to-day customer – the end user in the trenches. They aren’t usually interacting with the subject matter experts and end users in those customer organizations or even the project sponsors.  That’s the project manager’s role, but that’s also where the real customer satisfaction is developed.  If CEOs were able to take the time and take a cue from project managers and interacted daily with their customers – those who actually use the systems and solutions their companies develop – they would be surprised at the positive results in terms of customer confidence and satisfaction.  Nothing says you’re an important customer like having your vendor’s CEO meet with you personally. 

Delegate to Survive 

In the CEO world, I’m sure there is delegation.  But, in general, what is on their plate is on their plate, and what their underlings are tasked with is fairly obvious. Their underlings are CIOs, CTOs, CMOs, COOs, CSOs, and their administrative assistants, as well as several others depending on the infrastructure of the organization.  The project manager, on the other hand, must often delegate to survive.  They are working hard to please five or six customers at the same time with very different projects, different technical implementations and trying to keep it all straight is not an easy assignment.  The skilled project manager must know the skills of their project staff (which differs from project to project) and must know what to pass off to who and when to do it. 

Be the Best Communicator Possible 

CEOs must communicate – there is no doubt about that.  However, being able to communicate strategically and simultaneously with a customer, a project team, and executive management, as well as doing that for probably 4-5 other projects…all at the same time…is an entirely different story.  No one helps a project manager write what he’s going to say to kickoff a highly visible new project at a customer site.  No one is going to put the kickoff presentation together for that project manager either.  The ability to communicate effectively and efficiently with project staff and the customer is, in my opinion, the number one responsibility of the project manager and it is basically a means of survival during difficult project times. 

Always Collaborate 

Both CEOs and project managers must collaborate with key personnel.  The difference is the level of collaboration necessary and the breadth of collaboration required.  CEOs can definitely learn key collaboration skills from project managers who must interact with and gain valuable information from a very diverse and often geographically dispersed set of individuals on a daily basis. 

Be Accountable 

The CEO is accountable to his company board.  The project manager is accountable to the CEO and other senior management, the customer, his own project team, and likely the end users of the solution to be implemented.  Accountability is a good thing.  It makes jobs hard, but it makes projects and decisions and actions better.  CEOs can learn from the type of accountability that project managers are subjected to. 

Summary / call for input 

What are your thoughts here?  What areas do you think CEOs need additional skills in – where could they learn more from skilled project managers who survive in the trenches every day?  What do you feel your CEO may be lacking? Please feel free to join the discussion.


Online 8/15/2022
Brad Egeland
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