Project Manager is a driver not a traffic cop

Written by lewsauder

December 8, 2017

PM is a Driver

As a sports fan, I often hear other fans complain that a team is not playing to win. They are instead, playing not to lose. This means that they are being conservative. They focus largely on defense, keeping their opponent from scoring. They do this at the cost of being bold. They don’t focus on scoring points as much as they do on stopping their opponent.

Many argue that the greatest offense is a great defense. And if your baseball team scores a lot, but loses 14-12, it doesn’t do you much good.

Fans, though, like to see scoring and a strong defense.

The traffic cop

After you leave the game and make your way home, you may hit a lot of traffic. As you leave the crowded parking lot, there is no doubt a traffic cop directing people. He or she is focused on making sure people take their turn coming out. They may stop cars to let others through. They wave others on. The main focus of the traffic cop is to avoid accidents and chaos so people can get home.

The folks driving the cars are trying to accomplish something. They want to get somewhere. They may inch in to get ahead of another driver. They hit the accelerator when they want to get up further in line.

The driver is trying to accomplish something – getting to his destination. The traffic cop is trying to avoid something bad – an accident or major traffic jam.

Both roles play an important part.

Project Manager is a driver

There are project managers that take on the role of traffic cops. They direct people and make occasional decisions. But their primary goal is to avoid a major accident. Like the team playing not to lose, they play conservatively. They keep their head down and avoid making waves or getting any negative attention.

When the project manager is a driver, he plays to win. The driver project manager takes bold steps. A traffic cop project manager accepts limitations given from others. A driver PM seeks out the root cause and identifies creative solutions to break down barriers.

I’m not a micromanager

Many project managers try to avoid being too much of a driver. “I’m not a micromanager.” They may claim. But there is a big difference.

Micromanagers interfere and tell people how to do their job. Drivers participate and collaborate. A traffic cop project manager claims that they hire good people – drivers? – and they allow them to do their jobs.

That’s a good philosophy. However, if the project manager is a driver, he can allow the team to do their job while still driving the project.

It is a difference between being active and passive in your management style. You can be active and participative without being a micromanager.


A project manager needs to push things through to conclusion rather than tracking dates and observing what others do. When a project manager is a driver, things get done more quickly and efficiently. A driver allows people to do their job, but pushes them to greater heights for greater project success.

Are you a driver or a traffic cop?

If you would like to learn more about a career in Project Management, get Lew’s book Project Management 101: 101 Tips for Success in Project Management on Amazon.

Please feel free to provide feedback in the comments section below.

Image courtesy of vectrolie at

Lew’s Books at Amazon:

Project Management 101
Consulting 101
The Reluctant Mentor

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