The Parallels Between CEOs and Project Managers

As a project manager, you have a lot in common with the Chief Executive Officer. The overlap is excellent, as basically, all major undertakings within an organization are projects at their core. As a result, projects are often strategically important and extremely visible. However, their success or failure can significantly affect a company, and successful leaders usually head successful advances, whether on a project level or company-wide.

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As a project manager, it may be helpful to think of yourself as the project CEO. Here’s how taking on CEO-thinking can make you a stronger project leader.

The Power of Influence

While CEOs hold the most influential role in an organization, you, as a project manager, have a similar amount of sway within your smaller sphere of influence (the project). How you approach a project can set it up for success (or failure), and, like the CEO, the burden of that responsibility lies directly on you. That’s why it’s essential to use your influence wisely. To be effective, work to build influence – and most importantly, trust – among your team. 

Building a Strong Knowledge Base

One of the ways to build influence is to be knowledgeable in your field or in the project itself. Like CEOs, project managers need to know their stuff. Others will come to you with questions and expect answers. Understanding the moving parts of the team, the stakeholders, the project, and the scope will help you gain a team’s trust in your capabilities. Project managers that don’t have the answers (or don’t attempt to seek out solutions) will lose the faith of their team and can put the project into jeopardy. While realistically, you may not be an oracle with all of the answers, you do need to showcase a willingness to listen and problem solve on the fly and should constantly be self-learning while encouraging others on your team to level up on various skills as well.

Being a Master Planner

CEOs of companies need to have a vision for where the organization is going and its short, medium, and long-term goals. Project managers also need to be master planners. They need to devise, present and implement a coherent plan, so their team understands the high-level goals (and their roles within them). As a result, project managers will be better positioned to shepherd their team towards the desired end goal by providing clarity and a clear roadmap.

Sharing the Big Picture

CEOs are masters of sharing big-picture perspectives and encouraging buy-in company-wide. As a project manager, you’ll be more likely to succeed if you can translate every task, milestone, and project into a larger vision. Team members want to know the work they do is meaningful. Show them how important their work is to the company by explaining the overarching importance of the project and, by extension, their participation in it. 

Managing Risks Effectively

Influential CEOs aren’t just putting out fires. Instead, they’re managing risk and looking to the horizon to anticipate speedbumps. As a project manager, it’s essential to manage risks and contingencies. This helps keep a project on the rails. Anticipating risks allows you to develop a Plan B or C well ahead of time. By anticipating threats and managing them effectively, you can avoid typical hazards like scope creep, budget bloat, and other routine issues that must be carefully monitored for and managed throughout a project lifecycle. 

Putting the Right Tools in the Hands of Your Team Members

CEOs help determine what tools can effectively get the company from Point A to B. Whether it’s technology or physical infrastructure, a CEO will have to call where to place resources to be as effective as possible. Similarly, as a project manager, you’ll want to look at the project’s scope and understand what tools you’ll need to achieve the required outcomes. Figure out what your team will need to thrive in advance. Then, put those tools into play.


To effectively manage any project, you need to be in complete control and have buy-in from your team as a project manager. By thinking like a CEO, you’ll be putting yourself in the right mindset. Think big, lead from out front, embrace help from technology, and build respect from within by constantly expanding your knowledge base and sharing the big picture with your team. 

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