Directors: What are PMs saying behind your back?

Author: Henry Bennett

At KeyedIn Projects, we regularly hear hostility towards senior managers and the roles they should play in projects. Some project managers are quite vocal about how useless they find their C-Suite and would want them to stay clear altogether.

However, we understand that projects need executive support and don’t want to waste your and our time listing off unnecessary frustrations. Instead, we want to get our hands dirty and find out what project managers require from their senior team to improve their relationship, and, therefore, the business in the long run.

We gave project managers and experts in the field the chance to air their gripes about senior management, asking “What do you need from the C-Suite to make your job better and more productive?”. From the responses, four main areas of improvement were identified, including a lack of support and knowledge, unfair timescales and not sticking to the scope. We’ve decided to delve deeper into these gripes.

“We don’t get the support that we need.”

Although the project sponsor is ultimately accountable for the way a project turns out, as well as meeting business objectives, it falls down to the project manager to make sure that the work is complete. However, some project managers feel like they aren’t getting the support they need from senior management as, according to Annette Williams, “by the time we get involved, the contracts are signed and completion dates have already been agreed”, which “immediately submerges us into the pressure tank with impossible deadlines and not enough resources”.

The Lazy Project Manager’s Peter Taylor points out a potential reason by saying that “we are in the age of the ‘accidental project sponsor’” where project managers are “crying out for a competent professional skilled project sponsor” but “there are few such key resources inside organisations, which puts project success at risk”.

“If we say a time, we mean that time.”


Elizabeth Harrin from PM 4 Girls voices the frustrations that project managers feel when they are given a fixed date to work towards:

“I don’t care who you had lunch with, or what their golf handicap is: I want to be able to plan my project with the help of my team and then tell you when we can deliver. If directors need things done quickly, we can work with the team and the stakeholders to look at ways to crash the schedule, reduce the scope or phase the work, ensuring tasks are completed with early deliverables. We’d hope that we were considered to be trusted member of the management team and when we say it will take six weeks, that’s because it will.”

She goes on to say that project managers have “creative ways to deal with the pressures of tight delivery timescales and, if it’s a real emergency, magic can be worked to pull something out of the bag. Although it costs, in terms of relationships with colleagues and stress, so it shouldn’t be the way project managers always work.”

“Project sponsors need to know about projects.”

Many of the frustrations aired by project managers pointed towards a lack of knowledge amongst the senior management team about projects and their actual responsibilities. Mike Clayton asks “when are our bosses going to learn about projects and what their responsibilities really are?”.

He adds: “In truth, very few of my clients commission training for project sponsors and directors, often believing falsely, either there isn’t much for them to know, or there is, but they already know it, or maybe they don’t know it but there isn’t the time or budget to do it - and even if we did, they probably wouldn’t come.

“The organisations that do commission training for project sponsors, as well as for project managers, really do start seeing returns on investments in terms of budget, schedule and quality of project delivery.”

“Stick to the scope”

The final key area voiced by project managers is that the C-Suite doesn’t stick to scopes set out at the start of a project when budget, resources and time have been scheduled in and agreed.

Susanne Madsen from explains that executives aren’t aware of why a large proportion of projects fail because “there is a lack of strategic alignment between the project’s deliverable and the organisation’s objectives, as well as a lack of buy-in and engagement from project sponsors”.

She goes on to say: “Shockingly, PMI’s Pulse report shows that despite it being a top driver of project success, fewer than two in three projects have actively engaged sponsors - that’s alarming! Imagine how the situation might improve if project sponsors and executives took their responsibilities seriously. And how we could increase the success rate of projects if executives started getting trained or mentored in what it means to be a project sponsor and actively showed up and supported the project - that would be nothing short of revolutionary.”

So there you have it, that’s what your project managers have been saying behind your back. We hope it helps you to improve your working relationship with project managers, after all, it will certainly benefit your business if you’re working towards projects with the same focus.