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Women in Project Management

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Type: Article, Report or Whitepaper

Topics: Project Management

Date: January 2012

By Bradley A. Malone, PMP

This is the first in an ongoing series of project management articles by InfoComm University senior instructor Brad Malone.

Is the audio/video integration industry ready to fully acknowledge the value of women in the project management role and support their growth? I hope so, because whether the job is filled by women or men, it’s time to shift the paradigm of project manager from a through-the-ranks, glorified technical lead (someone who heroically gets the system up and running) to a proactive, communications-centric facilitator (someone who manages the client’s expectations, coordinates the multiple functions needed on the project, and maintains a credible and lasting client relationship).

Now, before explaining why AV project management is a growing field for women, I need to offer some disclaimers. I will be making gender generalizations based on my experience teaching and mentoring thousands of project managers — hundreds of them in AV integration companies. These generalizations are in no way meant as judgmental or sexist. In fact, the same qualities that make women good project managers can be seen in men. Although in my experience, such male project managers are currently in the minority.

So for starters, let’s describe the traditional male project manager. He often came into the role from a technical position, promoted based on his ability to reactively solve problems through heroism and overtime. Often, he’d rather be wearing a tool belt and working on the system implementation than performing traditional project management tasks. That way he’s always being productive and confident the job will be done right (according to him, anyway). These are admirable qualities.

However, the typical male project manager also:

  • Does not like to address conflict. He would rather it not occur and will avoid tough conversations if and when possible, which typically creates greater conflict down the road.
  • He’d rather talk to technical peers than customers (if he talks at all). Proactive communication is not necessarily his strong suit.
  • He does not like to be bothered with status reports, change orders or final documentation. Paperwork is not as important when there are integration problems to solve and fires to fight.

In other words, the male project manager thinks most about the getting the system up and running, often to the exclusion of managing the client and their expectations. Does this description apply to every male project manager? No. But, in my experience, it applies to most of them.

Now (again, based on years of experience) let’s describe the typical female project manager. She likely did not come into her position from a technical role (which is not to say she does not know technology), therefore her ego is not tied to her technical skills or tool-belt heroics. She tends to look at more systemic causes and solutions — because she’s not in “technical” charge of the project, she’s not tied to the way things have always been done.

Moreover, the typical female project manager:

  • Usually relies on those project team members who are wearing tool belts to complete the system implementation, therefore she’s much more proactive in making sure everything is in order before the work is started and in managing the project’s risks. In other words, she’s more interested in preventing a crisis than relishing the chance to save the day.
  • She prefers to avoid unnecessary conflict and would rather communicate with and involve the client prior to a crisis in order to look for collaborative options.
  • She’s good about ensuring that the client has a track record of status reports, change orders and final documentation. She does not see paperwork as an administrative function but as a communication management function.

To be sure, this description doesn’t fit every aspiring female project manager, but it fits a lot of them. And there’s nothing here that couldn’t also apply to some of the industry’s best male project managers, but so far, it doesn’t apply to enough of them.

So what can the AV integration industry as a whole — and companies individually — do to bring the best project management skills to bear and reduce the adrenaline-based, heroic culture of today’s male-dominated project management function, regardless of who eventually lands the role? First is to understand that project management is primarily a coordination and communication function, based largely on preparedness. It shouldn’t be viewed as an additional responsibility placed on an AV company’s most heroic fire-fighters. And second, companies should realize that paperwork and communication are not just administrative functions to be done after the “real” work is complete.

Companies should get to know and respect the women currently serving in project management roles for their proactive communication, escalation and problem-solving skills. Then look for people — women or men — with similar skills. Create outreach programs or internal mechanisms to provide success-oriented growth opportunities for people who showcase planning, coordination and communication skills. And become part of the project management discussion at InfoComm 2012 in June. Pro AV is still heavily dominated by men, but that’s slowly changing. In many cases, project management offers a good way for qualified women to find a role (and future roles) in a growing industry while exposing others to skills that will help all project managers tackle future challenges.

In the long run, this type of shift in the way companies approach project management will reduce the number of adrenaline-fueled projects that ultimately lead to exhausted team members. Does it work? Yes. Is it worth it? Yes. The benefit? Better-managed projects and higher client satisfaction.

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Bradley A. Malone, PMP, is an InfoComm instructor and president of Twin Star Consulting, a project management and corporate transformation consulting company. He holds the Project Management Professional (PMP®) designation from the Project Management Institute (PMI) and is one of PMI’s highest-rated instructors. Please share your thoughts with him at brad@twinstarconsulting.com.