When your project fails, there is only one person your boss will look to for an explanation: you. As a project manager, you will be held accountable for the overall success or failure of a project, even if the reasons for the project failure were out of your control. As such, PMs must ensure they have the authority to see the project through. There are three key elements that form the backbone for achieving any success in project management. They are:

  1. Authority: The legitimate power given to a person in an organization to use resources to reach an objective and to exercise discipline.
  2. Accountability: Being answerable to one’s superior in an organization for the exercise of one’s authority and the performance of one’s duties.
  3. Responsibility: The duties, assignments, and accountability for results associated with a designated position in the organization.

Organizations should inform project managers about the authority they will be given for each project they manage. All too often, organizations ignore this responsibility and problems such as conflict, confusion, and communication breakdowns start occurring. As project manager, you will be held accountable for the project. Your first objective should be to assess whether you have the authority you need to get the job done. Typically, projects cross multiple departments and it’s not always clear who holds the authority for many decisions. This uncertainty leads to political maneuvering and may also block project progress. For example, how can you be held accountable for a project’s success within a matrix organization when you don’t have any management responsibility over the resources within the functional departments (e.g., UNIX, NT, SAN, Ops, DBAs, etc.). You may be new to the company, making it even more difficult to negotiate in obtaining the types and quantities of resources you need. This ultimately delays your schedule and, therefore, your project performance. Figure A lists the types of responsibility/accountability challenges faced by many project managers.
Figure A

Daily challenges many project managers face in the pursuit of being accountable


Resolve by
Organizational structure hampers getting correct resources Negotiating upfront with functional managers
Not given the responsibility to succeed Obtaining executive buy-in and sponsorship
Insufficient priorities allocated to your project Escalate and reprioritize your project to the appropriate level
Stakeholders unsure of their purpose on the project Create a roles and responsibility document and review with all stakeholders
Issues drag out and aren’t resolved Need executive buy-in and sponsorship

Demystifying roles and responsibilities
Although the role of a project manager may vary by the size and complexity of your IT project, you may need to take the role of:

  • The client/customer interface
  • The project leader and integrator
  • The project resource manager
  • The delivery manager
  • The acceptor of project deliverables

The following core responsibilities form the backbone for your project:

  • Selecting the core team with the project sponsor and functional managers
  • Identifying and managing the project stakeholders
  • Defining the project
  • Planning the project
  • Identifying and managing issues and risks
  • Allocating and securing resource commitments
  • Monitoring and tracking project progress
  • Solving the problems that interfere with progress
  • Controlling cost and schedule
  • Leading the project team
  • Communicating progress status
  • Delivering the project deliverables and benefits
  • Managing the performance of everyone involved with the project

It’s equally important to make the distinction early on in the project regarding authority and responsibility. The way that this can be achieved is for project managers to clearly define the project responsibilities of stakeholders on the project through the project brief, management plan, and definition report.

You can also include these documents in a roles and responsibility matrix. Any one of these documents will assist you in clearly setting the individual expectations on the project. Figure B shows a typical Roles and Responsibility matrix chart to clarify the various responsibilities. For example, WBS item shows that the project manager is responsible for performing the cost estimation. If this were not done, then the project manager—and no one else—would be held accountable.

Figure B

How to achieve authority and success
If you are not given the authority to manage project resources, then you need to arrange a meeting with those stakeholders who do have the authority to “make things happen.” One secret to help hold people accountable for project tasks is to ensure that they clearly understand that you will be providing feedback into their yearly performance reviews. Once project members understand they are being held accountable, you’ll have to ensure that your team members will be able to complete these responsibilities. Here are some techniques you should use to enable a project’s success:

  • Provide leadership and interpersonal skills: On any project, it’s people and not plans that make successful projects. It’s crucial that project managers are responsible for providing the leadership and effective interpersonal skills between all project stakeholders.
  • Provide good communication: Clearly effective project communication is critical for relaying expectations and feedback among stakeholders throughout the entire project life cycle.
  • Manage the entire project plan: Project managers must track and monitor the overall project schedule as planned. Daily issues and risks should be documented and resolved expeditiously. Don’t think of quick wins and manage the plan only once in a while. That won’t work. Instead, manage on a daily basis and your job will be more rewarding.
  • Assess project performance: As project manager, you should be able to identify and collect daily assessments and metrics of your project performance on a regular basis. This should allow you to measure whether you are ahead or on track with the planned schedule, budget, and specification. Any indication of a deviation for each deliverable must be immediately corrected.
  • Manage project scope: Ensure that you are able to track and manage all changes on the project, in order to deliver what was originally scoped out in the first place.

The most successful project managers are those that are also willing to work with executives in order to get this authority. If you haven’t been given the authority to make large equipment purchases or hire IT staff, which are vital to a project’s success, then you could very well land in trouble and even lose your job. Don’t just assume you can take the authority—you have to ask for it. In this way, you are most certain that executives will be aware of the level of authority you are exercising on your project.

Exceeding your project management authority can be very easy if you are not provided with a clear “delegation of duties” from your project sponsor. This should clearly describe exactly what authority you’d have as a project manager. I recall a recent case where a project manager was hired to take charge of a SAP R3 implementation. The timeline to get a development environment established was extremely aggressive. The first problem he encountered was that the company executives kind of sat on things for a while, before approving anything. The vendor was anxious to deliver and meet the project timeline, but the quotes were caught up in the company approval process. Being impatient, the project manager proceeded to issue the vendor a letter of intent by himself, hoping this would reduce the lead-time on the delivery of the equipment—not anticipating problems, as the company would pay sooner or later. Sadly, the company’s financial executive discovered a letter of intent was issued and the project manager was subsequently fired. His response was that he assumed he had the necessary authority to get his project completed on time.

Mission accomplished!
The old axiom, “The buck stops here,” applies to both executives and corporations trying to hold project managers accountable for a project’s success. Companies need to allow project managers a far wider range of authority if they are to successfully manage their projects. Far too many “old-world” organizational structures stifle today’s way of doing business. If project managers are empowered, they’ll happily accept being held accountable. If project managers are left negotiating for resources all the time, then get ready for more failures and finger pointing.

Project managers will not accept accountability for the result of their actions if they are managed in an authoritarian way. If company executives want improved project delivery results, the only way to achieve this is to provide project managers the authority they need and hold them accountable for the results.