Eight Reasons Why Project Managers Are Not Respected

I work in a software development environment. Recently I sat in a meeting that included software developers, testers, project managers, designers, and people in miscellaneous other roles. The meeting was a general get-together with no strict agenda. As the conversation meandered about, several of the project managers in the room said things roughly along the lines of, “We feel that project managers are not appreciated enough.”

This surprised and intrigued me so I decided to see what information I could find about this lack-of-respect for PMs notion. I didn’t find any solid data, as in formal research or survey results, but there was a surprising consensus among the Web sites I found — it appears that, in fact, project managers do get very little respect in a technical environment.


Here are eight opinions I found repeated in various forms on the Internet, over and over and over.

1. Project managers are generally perceived as being in their role primarily because they don’t have the required technical skills to do development and similar activities.

2. Project managers do not create software systems and are therefore often seen somewhat as sycophants who ride along on the ability of others.

3. Project managers tend to vastly overstate the importance of the project-peripheral artifacts they produce (schedules, endless e-mail communications, and so on).

4. Project managers are seen as having no unique skills; because most of project management consists of communication and organization activities, there’s a strong perception that project management is just common sense. So project managers are easily replaceable.

5. In a technical environment, project managers constantly ask, “give me more respect” rather than actively engaging in activities (such as learning more about programming languages and technologies) that would actually generate more respect from their colleagues.

6. Project managers aren’t entirely necessary. For example, in a startup company you can live without an extra project manager but you can’t live without developers. Put another way, in a pinch, developers can act as project managers but project managers can’t do development.

7. Technically skilled employees, especially developers, are constant, active learners. But project managers’ skillsets are essentially static. Therefore there’s little difference between a PM two years out of school and one with ten years of experience.

8. Because women are over-represented in project management, there’s a belief that most are hired to fill HR gender quota goals rather than on the basis of ability.

Well, like anything, the extent to which these stereotypes about project managers are true or not really depends on a given scenario. But from a project manager’s point of view, the key problem is that these stereotypical opinions, true or not, appear to be widely and strongly held (at least according to a search of comments on the Internet).

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2 Responses to Eight Reasons Why Project Managers Are Not Respected

  1. First, thank you for writing this post. I absolutely agree with what you have voiced here as the reasons why any activities outside of coding get no respect from development teams in general. This is true for designers, testers, and even some of the IT and systems people. I find it interesting that you call them “reasons”, because to me they are “excuses for being self centered” and not valid reasons.

    There is something seriously wrong with people who can’t respect anyone who isn’t exactly like they are. A dire lack of empathy and wisdom that should be addressed rather than encouraged and tolerated. There are too few willing to stand up against the cultural problems that are harming others if it costs them anything or risks anything. It is not “ok” to ignore bias just because you’ve got yours. At some point it will impact you too. It will impact any of us who age out of the cultural norm.

    These are not reasons; they are excuses! There are skills needed to create software beyond coding. Some of them include social skills, which those exhibiting these behaviors would do well to learn. These attitudes are why the internet is such a hostile place to exist as anything other than a straight white young male.

    When I learn to code I don’t do it to get the respect of those who believe I need to earn it, as if I believe that is even possible. No matter what I do, the second I identify as female I have to reprove my qualifications time and time again. I can take my ideas and results and send them through a man with NO obstacles. I learn all that I can because I want to. Also, it, if takes a piece of the power that makes some so entitled, that is a bonus. If I can take a job from just one person who believes they are better than other people to the extent speaking to them must be pre-qualified with their coding skill, I will make technology a better place to work.

    This has little to do with project managers and everything to do with a culture where young men who code have all of the power, and think anyone who isn’t exactly like them is “less than them” including women who code and men who code in other specialties. This is about a culture of small fiefdoms where being right means more than being a good team member. Where “rock stars” are rewarded and team players are dismissed as weak. This is part of why we have drastically lost women from those companies who self reported, in any role since the 1990s. http://fusion.net/story/115998/survey-says-92-percent-of-software-developers-are-men/ I hope at this point there is not even one man left who wonders why there aren’t many women around on their teams. It’s because the culture is sick and if we don’t change it the 100% male teams will be well deserved and earned from years of this attitude.

    I hope the project managers of the world do learn to code. Then maybe we can have some balanced teams who are able to see beyond their own narrative. Perhaps we will have developers who aren’t so entitled that they believe others have to become more like them to “earn their respect”.

    The lack of self-awareness and humility in the items listed above is still shocking to me. I hope when you hear this you consider that perhaps some of it isn’t included in valid reasons? Some of these entitled narratives are bias used to excuse unethical behavior. If a team doesn’t feel they need or want a project manager, that is fair enough. However, if they want those tasks done, and have decided to have some roles that aren’t strictly development, some appreciation of skills in areas other than coding will be important, even if another developer is doing the project management tasks.

    The status quo benefits someone, but that isn’t the team, the product, the company, or the end users. That is why accepting these “reasons” without question is a poor norm. You can’t be a strong cross-functional team if you don’t respect any other functions.

    I assume I will get the typical response that happens anytime this problem is mentioned, and I hope the fact I’m willing to risk it by making this comment shows I think this is important. Next I expect to hear: 1. That I don’t understand because it’s too complicated. *followed by manplaining 2. That I would do well to be “less angry”. 3. That by “being negative” my personality is the problem, and that some women are thriving blah de blah lean in little canary in the coal mine. 4. Something derogatory about my looks or threats of violence again.

    • I was really quite unpleasantly surprised by the sheer volume and general nastiness of the comments I found on the Internet regarding project managers who work in a technical environment. I’m lucky to work in a group that values project managers, both male and female.

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