Project Management: a pilot’s guide

Project Management: a pilot's guide

Project Management: a pilot’s guide

3 minutes read
27th November 2020


Senior Project Manager

Jean-Baptiste has worked as European Project Manager and proposal writer throughout Europe and has worked on R&D international projects across Europe, Asia and Africa, his industry experience includes Nanotechnologies, Environment, Cancer research, Pharma, Data Archiving, Education and ICT. He is a member of the Project Management Institute and an alumnus of the Sorbonne and Assass Universitites in Paris. In 2020 Jean-Baptiste graduated with a Global executive MBA from a joint international EMBA programme including business schools in Norway, Spain, Singapore, and the US.

A project Manager is like a pilot, you only notice the importance of the job when things go wrong.

I have been a Project Manager for more than 10 years, but whenever someone asks me what my job consists of, I still struggle to explain. ‘Project Manager’ simply does not explain what the project is about. When I specify that I work within research, I am then usually asked whether I am a researcher myself. A question to which I have to answer, “No I am not a researcher”. From that point on, most people assume that my work is related to some sort of an administrative position, simply aimed at assisting researchers.

To illustrate the role of a Project Manager, we could use the metaphor of an airplane being the project and the pilot being the Project Manager. In the frame of EC-funded programmes the “Project Management role” is split between the Project Coordinator and the Project Manager. On a plane, the pilot and the co-pilot also split responsibilities. The pilot mainly works on making the journey as a whole successful, while the copilot regularly and carefully monitors the instruments and the procedures.

Pilots and copilots can have successful careers over many years, but if one mistake leads to fatalities, it is the only flight they will be remembered for. A similar cognitive pattern is when we tend to remember only the trains that were late, not those that were on time. My job is to keep projects on time, according to plan, respectful of the original design and cleared for landing!

Beyond Project Management

Whether it is intended or imposed, all Project Managers end up making choices with consequences on their project. Ultimately this depends on the level of autonomy the Project Manager enjoys on the project and the situation encountered. But as soon as the Project Manager starts making his/her own decisions, a strategic dimension emerges. This is the very moment where a Project Manager becomes more than a simple manager.

Among the many aspects that a Project Manager must handle, a key element is risk management. A project Manager is like a pilot who needs to foresee risks and have a back up plan.

Understood in the context of project management, risk is not only determined as a negative uncertainty (a threat) but also as a positive uncertainty, an opportunity.

The work of a Project Manager is therefore to minimise risks and maximise opportunities on his/her projects as much as possible. Another key dimension of project management emerges then, giving the Project Manager another strategic latitude in creating opportunities which could be extended to save costs, foster innovation and ultimately generate future business opportunities.


Martel supports you to pursue your goal – our expert team can support your innovation project from start to finish, from sourcing technical and human resources to strategic and operational project management.


Contrary to popular belief that a Project Manager is not a technician, but more of a facilitator,  the Project Management Institute, PMI, states that a Project Manager spends about 90 percent of his/her time doing communication. In other words Emotional Quotient, (EQ), the ability to identify and manage your emotions and the emotions of others is equally as important as IQ when co-piloting a project.

Over the course of this flight, we’ve taken a ‘bird’s eye’ view of the role and responsibilities of a Project Manager. The role entails more than simply assisting or supporting, a strategic dimension and a business dimension pertain to the role. If people expect projects to end successfully, just as they expect planes to land successfully, anybody keen on understanding the key parameters behind successful project deliveries should pay close attention to the scope encompassed by the role of the Project Manager.