The Entrepreneurial Project Manager

There are many types of projects, each unique in its size, duration and complexity. Assigning the right type of project manger to each type of project is a key factor is determining whether or not the project will be a success. Different project managers have different levels of skills and experience, and they also have difference personality attributes. This mix of skills, experience and personality attributes defines the type of project manager you are. The specific type of project manager I am interested in today is the entrepreneurial project manager.

I would proudly call myself an entrepreneurial project manager. I know that I have a very strong entrepreneurial streak in me, and this is an essential part of who I am. I have been setting up businesses, and advising others on this, for over 30 years. There have been some great successes, and also some opportunities to learn some great lessons (that’s a much better way to say failures). When it comes to the types of projects I prefer to manage, I tend to choose those where I can truly leverage my strengths in this area. What I want to do in this article is to examine what are the key characteristics of an entrepreneurial project manager and what sort of projects should they lead?

Let’s start with defining what an entrepreneur is:

From“a person who organizes and manages any enterprise, especially a business, usually with considerable initiative and risk.”

There are a couple of key words there – initiative and risk. An entrepreneur takes an initiative at the earliest idea stage, and usually with a lot of passion throws themselves into ensuring that the idea becomes reality. Along the way they may have to solve a wide range of technical, legal, financial, regulatory, and stakeholder problems. In doing this they take on and manage a great deal of risk, and in fact it can be dealing with this risk that provides excitement and challenges to the entrepreneur.

What kind of projects is an entrepreneurial project manager best suited to manage?

Entrepreneurial project managers should be put in charge of managing projects:

  • with a lot of unknowns,
  • that involve leading a small dedicated team,
  • that need a strong vision to get to the end, that
  • require a multi-disciplinary solution, that
  • require a great deal of autonomy and problem solving.

If you want to develop a specific entrepreneurial skill set and attitude here are nine key characteristics of an entrepreneurial project manager:

  1. Motivation

Self-motivation is key. An entrepreneur must be the one who gets out of bed in the morning thinking about the project and what the next steps are to make it successful. Being passionate about a venture, initiative or project is possibly the easiest way to be motivated as it will come without trying. Don’t be afraid to be passionate about what you are doing, and perhaps only select those ventures that you are truly passionate about to get involved with. Your motivation will spread to you team members and stakeholders.

  • Creativity

This is perhaps one of the more important characteristics of being an entrepreneur – you must be able to see creative solutions. Entrepreneurs work best dealing with solutions that haven’t been invented yet and solving these takes creativity. Don’t be afraid to think of many different possible solutions. Eliminating the less effective ones for whatever reason will leave you with a creative solution. Another tip I have learned is that creativity and curiosity go hand in hand. Don’t be afraid to be curious, ask a lot of questions and develop your knowledge about a lot of topics.

  • Vision

You must be able to see into the future and imagine what the end result may be. Perhaps more importantly you must also be able to communicate this vision to others to get them to see it, believe it and commit to achieving it as well. Being passionate about your vision will help in getting others to follow you. Your vision doesn’t need to specific, it can be a general outcome focused on success, whatever that means, with the details being filled in as you move along the project lifecycle.

  • Persuasiveness

Persuading people to believe in your vision and join in the pursuit of success takes skill. There are many ways to persuade people and you will have to appreciate that your team members and stakeholders may require different ways of persuading. Remember that you are convincing people to follow you in to the unknown so practice your influencing techniques.

  • Versatility

Being versatile means being able to demonstrate a wide range of skills, and not necessarily be an expert at any of them. In many ways, the entrepreneurial project manager needs to be a jack of all trades, and master of one – being entrepreneurial! You will need to have a working knowledge of technical solutions, financial matters, stakeholder expectation management, rules and legislation. Where you don’t have the required level of knowledge you will have to bring someone into the team who does.

  • Risk tolerance

Some people are naturally risk adverse and this is a great attribute to have in many projects. Entrepreneurs tend to be more risk tolerant and will generally rely on reactive rather than proactive measures to deal with risk. There needs to be a balance to make sure risks taken are reasonable, but the nature of entrepreneurship is to take risks and reap the rewards.

  • Flexibility

You must be able to move on from what you thought was a solution when it becomes inefficient. Learn to let go, and quickly move to the next solution. Don’t get hung up on one idea far past its ‘best by’ date. Realise that change is always going to happen, and you need to be flexible. When a roadblock appears, find a way to go around it, over it or under it, and if this can’t be done, then be prepared to reverse and find another path completely.

  • Decisiveness

You must be able to make a decision and live with the consequences. If it turns out to be a wrong decision you must be able to learn from it. Making a decision means being to take on board all the available information at that time and decide what the next course of action will be. No decision is ever set in stone and you should be prepared to change it if it doesn’t turn out to be the correct one.

  • Collaboration

A great entrepreneur knows their strengths and their weaknesses and will seek out people to fill in their weaknesses. They will usually seek out people with exceptional skills in these areas. An entrepreneurial project manager will assemble a great project team with the correct balance of skills, experience and attitude. They will also know how to train people, or move them on, who aren’t quite right for entrepreneurial types of projects.

So, if you have a high-risk project with some uncertainty in the solution and outcome, consider putting an entrepreneurial project manager to work.

To end, I would like to amend this quote I found online which I think sums up the role of the entrepreneur with just my own small change. The original quote reads “An entrepreneur is someone who jumps off a cliff and builds an airplane on the way down” (Reid Hoffman), I would amend it to say ““An entrepreneur is someone who jumps off a cliff and finds a way to fly on the way down”.