6 advices to not get frustrated being a “project manager” in a functional organization


A short time ago I wrote a tweet that gave me the idea to write this post. The tweet said:

Insisting on being “project manager” in a functional organization is for thoughtless or suicidal people…”

A functional organization is the one that is organized by knowledge areas: financial department, commercial department, production department, etc. organized under a general director.

In my opinion and experience, what characterizes functional organizations is that the departments are completely hermetic and the only way to get in them is through the superior hatchway, the department boss.

This, that might or might not be a problem under normal conditions, turns into your worst nightmare when somebody names you the leader of a perpendicular project. Magical words and heavy as a brick.

If you are that perpendicular leader, consider that:

  • You have few or no resources at your disposal
  • The one controlling the budget is the functional boss (each in its own field)
  • You have little or no authority over the project

Then, you are not a project director, you are a kind of project agent, a project shipper, as Daniel Echeverría once said, a “project nobody”.

Once you have accepted all that and if your vocation consists in making things get done, causing movement, living because of and for success of new initiatives you startup, don’t get exasperated! and, of course, never give up!

Follow these 6 advices and maybe, your life as a perpendicular leader becomes happier.

1. Put your greatest effort in communication.

If a project director with authority, team and budget control dedicates more than an 80% of his time to communication, you’ll have to dedicate the “120%”.

2. Work to have clear ideas,

about what needs to be done or about the method you are going to follow with the team to get through to them. If your team is lost, you’ll lose them one by one along the way. And remember what Albert Einstein once said:

“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough”

Albert Einstein

3. Transmit to functional bosses everything you transmit to the team.

because, whether you like it or not, the team will only carry out what you asked them when their functional boss tells them to (not when you tell them to)

4. Influence, influence and, if you don’t know how, learn how to influence others.

It’s the only tool you have in this jungle.

5. Make from your boss your first allied.

As the others, you have a functional boss. Use his influence and authority when yours falls short. This doesn’t mean you have to go giving orders around the company in your boss’ name (sad, but more than one does it) but as you transmit the steps to give to reach the objective to your team and its managers, keep your boss informed and make him the one that influences higher levels for you.

6. Bring results.

You will only work as a perpendicular project leader in long terms in an organization if you show results in a continuous way.

If you apply these advices, you’ll get something very powerful inside an enterprise (whatever its organization is), leadership.

People will follow you because you’ll be synonymous of professionalism and results. They will want to work with you, under your command, because that way they, as professionals, also get results and achieve their objectives.

This will make your way and life easier but won’t change your reality, that is that you work for a functional organization, full of functional bosses wishing to take the credit (whether they deserve them or not) and that there will be many days when you’ll still want to through in the towel…but as I said, don’t give up!

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