Can a Non-technical Background Stunt Your Growth?

Becoming a project manager is definitely something that interests me.  After spending the last few years working with project managers on a daily basis, I think I have acquired some basic knowledge.  However, where I work, the vast majority of project managers come from a technical background.  Previously, they were engineers who worked their way up.  It makes sense; they know the products and can speak coherently to the customer about specs, processes, etc.  So it has me thinking, how can someone like me with an accounting/finance background become a successful project manager?

So I read a few articles online, and it seems that the overall response is that a person does not need a technical background to become a project manager.  Well, that’s good news, but how do I overcome the technical deficiencies in order to be successful?  The following are a few ideas that I pulled from these articles:

Use your strengths

I mean this in two ways.  First, if you are not technically strong, then hopefully it means you have management/leadership skills.  Use the “softer side” of management to lead your team.  People skills such as managing conflicts, creating a positive, collaborative environment, and motivating are all valuable and useful skills.  The second meaning comes from the people themselves.  I once was told that being a good manager does not mean that you know all the answers but that you are able to surround yourself with all the right people.  The people you are managing are full of knowledge; lean on them to help you through the technical material while you learn the ropes.

Educate yourself

So you might not have a technical background, but if you see yourself staying in a certain field for a while, then it might be time to put the student hat back on.  This doesn’t necessarily mean going back to school to take a class, but it does mean putting forth an effort to learn.  Pay close attention to everything that is going on around you, ask questions when you don’t understand something, and even do your own research.

Admit when you need help

In other words, do not pretend that you know everything.  Acknowledge when there is a gap in understanding.  Show your team you respect them by not faking it; they will respect you more if you ask for the help when you need it.


Overall, if you can utilize your management skills from previous experiences, put forth an effort to learn your new environment, and work to understand your team, then a program management position can be within reach.


What was your background before becoming a project manager?  How has it helped you to succeed?

Have you ever worked with a project manager who did not have the technical background in regards to the project you were working on?  How did you feel it affected the project?



The Frustrations of Working within a Matrix Organization

The matrix organization is a relatively new concept when it comes to an organizations structure.  A matrix organization is a hybrid between a project management structure and a functional hierarchy (Larson & Gray 74).  The exhibit below shows different types of matrix organizations.

As a defense contractor, my company is most closely aligned with the project matrix (also known as a strong matrix).  Whereas I understand the benefits of the matrix organization (promotes higher efficiency, creates cross-functional relationships, etc.), I find that many of my daily frustrations stem from this type of organization.  I often feel that I have too many bosses, and sometimes they seem to be blissfully unaware that I have responsibilities on other projects and/or for other managers.  Communication is another issue because I either receive the same e-mail from five different people, or I do not get communicated with at all.  There have been many instances where a coworker has received a piece of vital information from one of their project managers, and I hear nothing because my project manager thinks the information should have come from my finance manager.

So now that I have identified all these challenges, here are some suggestions to follow in order for the matrix organization to work successfully:

Define your role and each manager’s role

Talk with the functional manager about what is expected from you and what he/she thinks your role is within a project team.  Additionally, each project manager has different expectations, so speak with him/her at the beginning of the project.  An open dialogue about what is expected from you as a team member and him/her as the manager can be very beneficial.  Work out any ambiguous areas right away.


Communication is key!  Keep multiple managers in the loop about your work load and your deadlines either in a formal status report or informally during staff meetings.  Ask that you be included on the distribution list for vital communications.  If any issues arise, communicate them as soon as possible.  Project managers should also make sure that they have a regular form of communication with each of their team members.

Embrace diversity

Lastly, take advantage of the matrix organization.  It provides employees with the opportunity to make connections with other employees in different functional organizations.  Project managers should encourage an open team atmosphere.  As a team member you can learn about different areas in the company that interest you as well.  Who knows, you may find a new area of interest!


What type of organization does your company utilize?  Do you think it is the proper organization for how your company operates?

What are some of your personal experiences (good or bad) with the matrix structure?



Larson, E. W., & Gray, C. F. (2014). Project Management: The Managerial Process (6th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Education.