Proposals to Accelerate Advancement from Project Manager to Senior Executive


By the late Jean-Pierre Debourse, PhD, MSc

Lille, France


Russell D. Archibald, PhD (Hon)

Archibald Associates

San Miguel de Allende, Mexico


This paper presents a brief summary of the results of a research project titled “Project Managers as Senior Executives” and more detailed conclusions and proposals that focus on the actual and potential progression of project managers to senior executive positions.

Sponsorship and Conduct of the Research Project on which this Paper is Based

This research project was co-sponsored by the Project Management Institute (PMI), the ESC-Lille (France) Graduate School of Management, Fonds Régional de Garantie Nord-Pas-de Calais, and CEL.LAB Université du Littoral. The full research results are based on analysis of the pertinent literature, extensive interviews with 25 senior executives and 20 project managers from 6 countries, and 557 responses from 20 countries to a questionnaire in English and French consisting of 77 questions. The full report was published in two volumes by PMI in May 2011 and is available for downloading by PMI members at no cost at http://www.pmi.org/Knowledge-Center/Research-Completed-Research.aspx . On-line access to the resulting data banks is available to authorized researchers through PMI.

Purpose of the Research

The purpose of this Research Project was to provide documented answers based on published and empirical evidence to these fundamental questions: Are project managers becoming and can project managers become senior executives? If not, what can be done to allow them to climb the ladder? What are the odds? How can a project manager better design her/his career development to take advantage of these opportunities?”

The issues that were studied include:

The progression of project managers into upper management: reality or myth?

Project manager evolution: tacticians versus strategists (technical, managerial, leadership).

What project management competencies are essential for effective enterprise management in organizations?

Define career paths in project management (project manager to program manager, vice-president/general manager, CEO, other senior executive.)

What skills, competencies and experience should a project manager develop to be considered for these positions? Examples of areas to be considered are: tacticians versus strategists; business communication, MBA and other degrees.

What, if any, are “best practices” in developing and promoting project managers to become corporate leaders?

The research intentions were to differentiate the data in meaningful ways, and to identify and make recommendations by major industries and types of organizations, such as project-driven versus project-dependent organizations.


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Editor’s note: Second Editions are previously published papers that have continued relevance in today’s project management world, or which were originally published in conference proceedings or in a language other than English. This paper was originally presented and published at the 3rd International PMI Mexico PMTOUR 2011 Project Management Conference in June 2011. It was also republished in the January 2012 edition of PM World Today. It is republished here with permission of Russ Archibald.

About the Authors

Jean-Pierre Debourse, PhD

Lille, France


The late Jean-Pierre Debourse, PhD, MSc, was Professor Emeritus and Director of Research at the University of Littoral (ULCO) in Dunkirk, France. He was founder and Director of a research laboratory on Entrepreneurship and Project Management at ULCO, integrated in the LEM-National Scientific Research Center (CNRS) with team members from 7 universities; former Dean of the ESC Lille School of Management; and Professor Emeritus, the University of Lille. With over 40 years of experience in project management and project management education, he was a founder of one of the first PM Masters Degrees in Europe in 1979, a founder of the Regional Development Agency of the North-Pas de Calais Region, and former CEO of Fonds Régional de Garantie.


Russell D. Archibald

Archibald Associates
San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

Now 93, with careers spanning more than 70 years, Russ Archibald has had broad international experiences in piloting and designing aircraft, corporate engineering, operations, and program and project management. His three project management related careers have been Military/Aerospace (19 years), Corporate Engineer & Executive (17 years), and Management Consultant (34 years to date). Russ has consulted to a wide variety of large and small organizations in 16 countries, has trained thousands of people in project management, and has resided in the USA, France, Mexico, Venezuela, Panama Canal Zone, and Peru with Marion, his wife of 70 years. For the past 23 years they have resided in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico.

Russ is founding member number 6 of the Project Management Institute/PMI. After presenting the first PMI paper in 1969 he was President of the PMI Southern California Chapter in 1991-2, founding member of the PMI Mexico City Chapter in 1996, and in 2006 was awarded the PMI Jim O’Brien Lifetime Achievement Award. A PMI Fellow and Certified Project Management Professional, he co-authored with Prof. Dr. Jean-Pierre Debourse the 2011 PMI research report Project Managers as Senior Executives. He was also a founding member in 1970 and is an Honorary Fellow of the Association of Project Management (APM/IPMA-UK).In 1967 he was co-author (with Richard Villoria) of Network Based Management Information Systems (PERT/CPM),Wiley, one of the first books to appear on project management.

Russ is co-author with his grandson Shane Archibald of Leading and Managing Innovation-What Every Executive Team Must Know about Project, Program & Portfolio Management(2nd edition CRC Press 2015, 1st edition 2013 also published in Italian, Portuguese and Spanish); author of Managing High Technology Programs and Projects (3rd edition Wiley 2003, also published in Italian, Russian, and Chinese), has contributed chapters to 15 books edited by others, and presented 88 papers at many PMI, IPMA and other conferences in many countries. He holds BS (U. of Missouri 1948) and MS (U. of Texas 1956) degrees in Mechanical Engineering. Russ was awarded an honorary Ph.D. in Strategy, Program, and Project Management from the Ecole Superieure de Commerce de Lille in Lille, France in 2005. See russarchibald.com. Russ can be contacted at [email protected]

To view other works by Russ Archibald, visit his author showcase in the PM World Library at http://pmworldlibrary.net/authors/russell-d-archibald/