From Project Manager to CEO

At the beginning of this year, I did a post on the Top 10 Issues for Project Managers and one of those listed was being typecast – i.e. a healthcare PM or an infrastructure PM.  Even more of a challenge is growing beyond the project management role to become a Director of IT, VP of Infrastructure, etc.   PMs manage teams, risk, budgets and are responsible for communicating across the organization and often at very senior levels; so why is there such a challenge to break through the glass-ceiling? Can a PM be on the career track to CEO?

Dr. Dean Radtke obtained a Bachelor’s degree from Syracuse University, then went on to the United States Navy Commissioned Officer’s School and the United States Navy Leadership and Intelligence Schools.  Since then, he has spent the past 35 years having worked directly for Admiral John S. McCain, U.S. Atlantic Fleet; James E. Preston, Chairman Avon Products, Inc.; Les Wexner, Chairman The Limited, Inc.;  and other multi-billion dollar, Fortune 500 companies.  I think you get my point…Radtke knows leadership and what it takes to be a C-Level leader.

While I have not attended one of his events YET, I am aware of his 5 characteristics of the CEO job description.

  1. Provide direction & leadership
  2. Obtain Plans, Ideas, & Recommendations (from your leadership/team)
  3. Commission the work
  4. Provide for your team’s success (Coach, Train, Teach, Mentor)
  5. Obtain evaluations (get feedback, lessons learned)

I think you should check out Dr. Dean Radtke’s organization, The Institute of Ministry Management & Leadership, for further info and more resources.  In the meantime, take a look at his list of 5 and tell me it doesn’t compare to what a PM is expected to do:

  1. PMs are always asked to set direction and communicate the vision of the requirements to the project team.
  2. PMs must work with the team members obtain their ideas & recommendations on the schedule, plan, and solutions from their functional experts.
  3. Once PMs lock down the requirements, plans, budget, etc they get approval and commission the work.
  4. Provide for the team’s success by understanding challenges, providing tools, coaching on project processes, etc
  5. Receive feedback from the stakeholders or conduct lessons learned.

What do you think…

  1. Are PMs overlooked for senior management roles?
  2. What are the skills PMs must develop to move to the next level?

4 thoughts on “From Project Manager to CEO

  1. I agree with Glens comment! I have wandered many times what it would feel like to hire some one just for their sales ability. I think there is more I need to know about personality’s to be able to see talent when it presents itself along with know-How and motivation.

  2. Robert,

    The path to the corner office is guided by “strategy” rather than tactics – IME. But where it leads is another question. As a former deputy CIO (deputies) had responsibility for large chunks of a multi-billion $ DOE program. The CEO and CIO were 100% focused on revenue generation (actually managing the contract to plan and saving money, $0.30 of every $1.00 we got to keep).

    But it’s the “touching the money” that separates operations (or development) from the business leadership. Was on the phone today with a client – CEO, CIO, CFO briefing. We had briefed all the operations people (aerospace products firms) last week. The conversation today was around 5 years strategy, cost trades for one ERP versus another at the very highest level, impacts on business development capabilities and customer capture. Those types of conversations are balance sheet focused. So if a PM is going to move in that direction, she has to be a Business Development person. Even the VP of Ops is just that Ops. Nice office for that person, but when the CEO is in the room, he leads, others follow.

  3. Glen,

    Thanks for stopping by and I love the comment! My wife and I have spoken about this very topic, as she works with data analysis and more of an operations role. While she never gripes, she says she would like to be in a profit center because recognition, development, perks are seen on that side of the house. The cost center aspect is why I think many of my teams have always been relegated to the basements or some other removed location.

    How about this…

    The group I am currently in, is technically a cost center. We do new product/services development for the enterprise. Our job is to watch the market, anticipate change, and consistently develop new offerings or even new lines of business that are launched world wide or sometimes in specific regions. It requires all the usual market intelligence, go-to market strategies, pricing strategies, operations/IT development, and so forth. Essentially, entrepreneurs in the enterprise. I have a friend that recently started at American Express and a brother at Verizon doing very similar roles. Not just IT related, business process, app dev…entire new business and portfolio development.

    Would these PM roles not be a breeding ground for eventual execs? This caller will hang up and listen to your response. Kidding aside, you always have good insight Glen and I would love to hear your thoughts.


  4. PMs are passed over for all the right reasons. Without moving from the expense side of the business to the revenue side, no person – PM or not – is going to have any contribution to business development.

    Follow the money. PM’s are no in control of the top line of a business. They can contribute to retaining more of the top line through good management. But until your name is associated with sales and revenue on a per transaction level, you’re not going to move to that “corner office.”

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