To what extent can a Project Manager be held responsible for projects remaining on schedule and on budget?

Would it make sense for Project Managers to be either promoted (or otherwise rewarded) for a project that came in early, or demoted or punished (or fired?) for projects that are late or run over budget?

I'm not referring to Projects Managers who goofed off and ignored their project. I'm also not referring to cases where an entire team is rewarded or punished.

How common is it for only the Project Manager to be highlighted for the success/failure of the team?

  • 1
    This question is kind of on the bubble. It's a useful question, but it's currently phrased in such a way that it invites anecdotes and opinions. Polling questions are always off-topic here. Can you edit it a bit to encourage a canonical answer? – Todd A. Jacobs Mar 7 '16 at 0:01
  • @CodeGnome - is that better? – Danny Schoemann Mar 7 '16 at 9:43

Unless Management invests full authority, at an HR management level, on a project manager, then they can not lay full blame on a project manager for the project's success or failure. (And we don't really want this model anyway, since it would be an old style command and control project, not a team driven project).

However, great project managers take accountability and ownership for their projects. When I was a program manager (I'm now an agile coach) I always took personal accountability for my programs. My job was to do everything I could to help the team successfully deliver the project. If something went wrong, I was the first person to step forward and take blame. My belief was if I wasn't willing to be help personally accountable, then I wasn't serving the team properly.


To what extent can a Project Manager be held responsible for projects remaining on schedule and on budget?

Junior PMs are assigned to projects with low complexity for a reason. If you were to assign me, an IT project manager, to build a new space station, it will fail. Someone can try holding me accountable for that, but you should have never assigned me to that project AND I should have never accepted it.

If the project manager is the only one being held accountable for the project's success or failure, the PM may not have been communicating effectively through the proper channels (Project Status Reports, Project Change Requests, steering committees, etc.). The Project Status Report will highlight team accomplishments.

I see the PM as the glue holding the parts together or the oil keeping the machine running. Sometimes this can be mixed up and that's when the PM has to adjust. However, the PM is not the machine and our tasks are usually classified as level of effort. We can't be responsible for all the issues that arise, but we can be for our predetermined action plans and how we implement them.


Like everything else in a project, "it depends".

An organization should be assigning a leader (sponsor, champion, whatever you want to call it) who will be the single point of accountability for project success. That leader needs to have real authority, and needs to be seen as a rational and appropriate choice for the role.

The project manager is assigned to assist that leader in the day-to-day management of the project. Depending on the sponsor and the organizational culture, there will be more or less authority delegated to the PM. The PM therefore can have more or less accountability for project success, depending on how much authority was delegated.

Unfortunately, PMs act as convenient scapegoats. As the saying goes, success has a thousand fathers but failure is an orphan... and given that the PM tends to be low on the totem pole it is more convenient to point fingers at them than at the real leaders.

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