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Playing the Project Manager

Playing the Project Manager

Playing the Project Manager is written for practising managers, to help them understand their performances as managers, and how they may advance their capabilities and their careers.

Discover how managers acquire their authority, their power to deal with challenging situations, to speak out, and to lead the way forward. Learn what it takes to appear as a credible and coherent player on the project stage, and how to perform the archetypes - six standard modes for playing the project manager.

The understandings revealed are founded on stories related by managers, telling us what real people actually do in difficult project situations, and are exemplified throughout using examples from those stories.

"Playing the Project Manager is a rare example of serious inquiry into the actions and behaviour of project managers. Charles Smith draws on the lived experiences of competent project managers to show how they adopt different identities when ‘performing on the project stage’ and how this permeates their management style and approach. In contrast to the technical rationality of most project management books, this book offers a refreshing window into the professional artistry of effective project managers and offers valuable guidance on the different ways in which the project manager role can be performed." Dr Mark Winter, Senior Lecturer in Management Practice, Manchester Business School.


Introduction to project managers as performers: interdependence of project sense and manager identity.

Becoming a manager: personal growth at times of challenge, personal choices, managerial authority and its investment in archetypes of project manager - role models for learning and career decisions.

Handling the plot: identity resources and performance, allies and agenda, selective tools of the trade, personal strengths, rhetoric.

Description of each archetype (performance, vulnerabilities, choices): The Analyst, The Enforcer, The Expert, The Impresario, The Master of Ceremonies, The Reshaper.

Project lives: playing multiple archetypes, careers, power and autonomy, personal value in project management.

Purchasing Options

In the UK (list price £8):

Amazon UK Kindle UK Book Depository

In the USA (list price $12)

From Amazon and Kindle websites worldwide

By order from good booksellers everywhere


"... a very well written and crafted alternative view ... a highly stimulating and thought-provoking book." Derek Walker, Professor of Project Management, RMIT University, Melbourne. International Journal of Managing Projects in Business volume 8, issue 2. Full review available from Emerald

"... an interesting and highly entertaining book ..." David Pells, Editor, PM World Journal

"I really value Charles’ book and commend it to all of my PM friends. It offers fascinating insight into the different ways of being a project manager ..." Jon Hyde, Public Sector PM.

"Playing the Project Manager is a wonderfully concise read. It is well written and well structured, and the war stories and examples provide ample and practical advice for project managers" Sarah Coleman, review on Amazon UK.

"I really love this book. It’s not often that a gem of a book on project management comes along and this one is definitely one of those. ... It has managed to nail the subject of what is really happening when a project manager chooses to manage a project ... should be a compulsory companion book to any project management training course ..." Lindsay Scott, Director at Arras People. Full review at the Camel


Research Overview

Understanding Project Manager Identities is my private research initiative to generate a better understanding of the possibilities for project manager identities - the diverse ways there are of being and acting as a professional in the world of projects. My concern is that mainstream project management thinking acknowledges only one form of identity: the idealised Project Manager applying the tools of the trade in a supposedly ‘objective’ manner to the single end of meeting project requirements.

The purpose of this research is to inform personal learning and educational programmes. An enriched understanding of what it means to be a professional in the project world can in turn enhance the awareness of individuals as they learn to perform roles and make development and career choices in this field.

The principles of the research are:

For more information, see methodology paper, Charles Smith (2011).


'Performers on the Project Stage' A commentary article in the Project Management World Journal, December 2014.

'Speaking of Projects: Six Varieties of Project Manager' An article on the Wellingtone Project Management Website, June 2015.

Charles Smith, (2011) 'Understanding Project Manager Identities: a Framework for Research', International Journal of Managing Projects in Business, volume 4, issue 4.

'Being a Project Manager: Identity and Performance' Presentation to PMI EMEA Congress, May 2015 (contact me for information)

Related Work - Project Shaping:

Charles Smith and Mark Winter, (2010) 'The Craft of Project Shaping', International Journal of Managing Projects in Business, volume 3, issue 1.

This paper looks at the actuality of project formation to investigate project shaping - those acts performed by individuals to make that form of 'sense' that constitutes a new project - and to propose a framework for mapping their skills.

Making Sense of Project Realities

Making Sense of Project Realities

Published by Gower in 2007.

The book is now out of print (since April 2014) but is still available in e-book form.

Alternatively I have hardback copies here. Please contact me if you are interested.



Charles Smith

Email to: charles@projectcraft.org.uk

On LinkedIn

On twitter @projectcraft9

Website of Charles Smith, Management Researcher, Knutsford, UK

Updated 1st January 2019