Lean LeadershipLean Culture Building

PMs Stuck in the Middle?

Clowns to the left of me
Jokers to the right
Here I am stuck in the middle with you.

Middle managers play pivotal roles in organizations, balancing directives from above with the practical needs of their teams.

But most construction and design Project Managers dislike being called “middle managers” because the term can carry connotations of being stuck in a hierarchical middle position without the decision-making power of top executives or the creative freedom of front-line employees. This also applies to other similar positions in organizations.

The term “middle manager” itself may imply a lack of prestige and autonomy, fostering feelings of insignificance or being overlooked. Being labeled solely as “middle” can overlook their valuable contributions. Managers “stuck in the middle” may prefer titles that emphasize their specific responsibilities and expertise, reflecting their wider, diverse and vital roles within the organization: implementing strategies, mentoring employees, and bridging communication gaps.

So in a Lean organization in which Respect for People is the “most crucial of the six tenets of Lean”, it is imperative that we look at you, “middle managers”, as individuals: sentient human beings with talents and foibles and emotions and strengths. You are human beings who have an “inner life” of the mind, which is too often not revealed to the world. You are people…who need to be afforded full opportunities for autonomy, increasing excellence and relatedness, the three essential components of internal motivation (based on Deci and Ryan’s 40 years of research).

Some executives might want to look for more descriptive titles that capture the depth and significance of “middle manager” roles, fostering a greater sense of value and respect within the organization. Or no title at all, like DPR.

But there’s so much to discuss about Project Managers and others “stuck in the middle”. We will explore other aspects of what it means to be a Project (Middle) Manager in future posts. And we welcome/need your feedback and ideas. Let the discussion begin…

  • Original thoughts with minor assistance from ChatGPT

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