Who is the modern project manager?

Fundamentals alone don’t cut it. Meet the Project Influencer.

These days projects are everywhere. The global trend of ‘projectification’ has meant that more and more activities are being organized into projects and more and more people are working as project managers. Projects are not only more numerous, they are also becoming larger and more complex, with mega projects and organization-wide transformations becoming the norm. Adding digitization into the mix has created efficiencies, but the speed at which technology evolves means that we are now in a constant state of rapid evolution. As a result, the demand for people with the proven ability to manage projects has surged.

But rather than celebrating project managers, headlines instead announce that the role will soon go the way of the dinosaurs. Research from Gartner estimates that 80% of all project management tasks will be automated by 2030, with artificial intelligence capable of analyzing and reporting data faster and more accurately than humans. Attempts to reduce human error might lead the humans to be replaced entirely – a quick Google search for ‘the death of the project manager’ brings up countless articles calling in the Grim Reaper.

Source: PMI and PwC. 2021. PMI and PwC Global Survey on Transformation and Project Management 2021.

Project Manager (PM) role

The Project Manager (PM) role – like the surrounding business environment – is changing and is more important than ever. PwC’s latest research shows that project managers are evolving – no longer a group focused on scope, schedule, and budget alone, the leading project managers today are leveraging new technology to streamline much of what they and their teams have done in the past, to in turn focus on influencing outcomes, building relationships and achieving the strategic goals of their organizations. They are not just project managers – they are Project Influencers – and will never be replaced by a machine.

The Project Influencer: Key skills and attributes

Business basics

Project Management Fundamentals: Highly organized, and professionally certified/credentialed in applying discipline and structure through appropriately controlled scope, schedule, and budget levers

Business Acumen: Strong knowledge of the organization and industry they are a part of: understands the key dependencies, sees the big picture. Strong understanding of key business problems and how the strategy can help the execution of the project will solve them

Ways of working

Agile mindset: Takes a flexible approach, frequently re-evaluating and adapting along the way to get things done better, faster, and often cheaper

Digitally Enabled: Leverages technology to streamline processes and uses automation to enable enhanced, data-driven decision making

Problem Solver: Brings creativity to their thinking to drive the project forward

The human factor

Amateur Psychologist: Possesses emotional intelligence and leads and guides progress by building relationships and trust

Motivator: Makes people enthused and eager to give their all

Gravitas: Feels comfortable in a position of authority and able to hold people accountable

“The high performing project manager is a creative problem solver and critical thinker. They are not just a scheduler - they are a consultant on the team, a voice driving the project forward. They need to be a willing participant in engineering a solution in order to really use their seat at the table.”

Lauren HebertExecutive Director, Scoring & Reporting Operations, Educational Testing Service (ETS)

Modern technology amplifies the key skills and attributes of the project influencer

In our discussions we found little evidence or belief that any type of technology will, or can, replace the human project manager any time soon. Instead, our research indicates that Project Influencers are leveraging digital tools to alter trajectories, enforce best practices and free up time to focus on the people-centered aspects impacting outcomes.

We cannot underestimate the power of human attributes. If the project manager’s work is purely scheduling and reporting, they can be replaced by technology very soon. If they use strategic thinking, human sensitivity, creativity and act as Project Influencers within their organizations, then we will see faster delivery, mitigated risk, and more customer-centered solutions – and the role will survive for a long time yet.

Meet the Project Influencer

There is an old misconception that the Project Manager role is simply running reports and pulling together schedules—tasks that could, in truth, be automated. As our interviews with senior project professionals and transformation leaders across North America highlighted, the Project Influencer is defined by fundamental technical project management skills in addition to core human skills that are leading them through this era of transformative digital change, based in empathy.

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Jennifer Duignan

Jennifer Duignan

Principal, PMO Managed Services, PwC US

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