The number of factors that can push a project toward failure is almost limitless. An unrealistic schedule, budget shortfalls, scope creep, even internal politics can wreak havoc on—or ultimately doom—a project. Sorting out the root cause of the problem amid the wreckage of a failed project isn’t always easy, though, and oftentimes the finger of blame gets pointed at the most convenient scapegoat: the project manager.

While it may be easy to saddle the project manager with the blame for failure— the job title alone implies ultimate responsibility—the true reasons for an undesirable outcome usually run deeper than just one person. Project management analyst firm Mosaic Project Services Pty Ltd identified 29 commonly cited reasons for project failure and found that only seven fell exclusively in the realm of project management. The other 76 percent came under the purview of the organization’s general and executive management.


While the project manager is responsible for the team’s day-to-day execution, executive management and the project sponsor are responsible for ensuring that the project manager has the necessary resources, tools and policies to do the job, says Simon Harris, PMP, director of consultancy Logical Model Limited in Edinburgh, Scotland. He argues that the project manager is responsible for many things, including leadership, but the sponsor is always ultimately accountable for the success of the project. It’s the sponsor who must have the authority, skill, will and ability to enforce the project manager’s direction, reallocate resources and resolve conflicts above the project manager’s level of influence if projects are to succeed. If a project fails because of a shortage of human resources or a drop in funding from the organization, for example, pinning the fault on the project manager is a mistake.

When a mistake or failure occurs, two steps must be taken: finding out who was responsible and asking what can be changed to prevent a repeat. Thoughtful organizations perform project postmortems to discuss and document the process after the fact, and develop ways to improve the next project.


The project manager can still make poor decisions or exhibit behaviors that inevitably lead to project breakdown—even when executive leadership does exactly what it should. Several clear signals on a troubled project indicate that the project manager may be letting things slip and necessitate intervention on the part of senior management or the sponsor:

Lack of Leadership Skills: “Not listening to all the information being given and not delegating tasks are just two indicators that leadership is lacking” says Naomi Caietti, PMP, enterprise architect. State of California, Sacramento, California, USA.

Poor Ongoing Planning: Though the project manager may not be involved in the initial planning, he or she is responsible for keeping the project on track. Setting unrealistic expectations and showing a lack of foresight can steer a project toward trouble.

Tunnel Vision: Similar to falling into the planning trap, some project managers focus too much on one facet of the project, losing sight of the big picture and end goals. That makes it almost impossible to respond appropriately to changing factors or new ideas.

Incompetence: If a project manager is deficient in basic management capabilities, he or she has no business being in that position.

Companies invest a lot of time and money in their project managers, so it’s in their best interest to look at failure as a learning opportunity, rather than a reason to terminate. “Executive management needs to be supportive of project managers when this happens. One positive sign for a project manager’s future performance is if he or she voluntarily takes the blame for project failure”, says Sergey Saltykov, PMP, chief project officer at clothing supplier Savage, Moscow, Russia. “It’s easier for project managers to do that when organizational leaders create a culture of responsibility and own up to their own mistakes, too”, says Ms. Thushara Wijewardena, chief project officer at software developer Exilesoft Ltd, Colombo, Sri Lanka. When executive management steps forward to take some blame for project errors, it creates an environment where it is accepted that no one is perfect, and that anyone can make mistakes. “I haven’t met any experienced project managers who have never had a project failure in their careers”, she says. “Ultimately, it may not really matter whose fault project failure is as long as lessons are learned and mistakes are not repeated”, says Mr. Saltykov. “A bad experience is still an experience”.

Bron: David Whitemyer, PM Network, January 2013