Demoautocratic management

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Klaus Pannenbacker
Klaus Pannenbacker

Project managers require a mixed method management style, striking a balance between being democratic and being autocratic in order to keep complex projects running smoothly, within budget and on time.

Klaus Pannenbacker, ex-president of the International Project Management Association (IPMA) and founder of the German Project Management Association (GPM), coined the phrase demoautocratic management style based on this belief. 

Pannenbacker, who started off as an electrical engineer, shares a dream with Wessel Pieters, from the Association for Project Management South Africa (APMSA), to increase project management knowledge and experience as well as to improve attitudes towards the discipline, especially amongst those who have the necessary talent and aptitude. 

“While IPMA and APMSA offer project management training and certification, we have not found a reliable way to test people for attitude and aptitude before training and certifying them.

"It is no good taking somebody’s money and training them if they do not have the propensity to be a good project manager,” states Pannenbacker.

Project management is a discipline that is continuously evolving.

Often principles that can be applied in one context cannot necessarily be applied in the next.

Therefore even the best training cannot always prepare the project manager for work in the field.

It is also critical for a trainer to identify skills gaps and adjust training to fill these gaps.

Project management is not just a textbook education but also involves training and coaching, where a person with the correct education is taught how to do things practically.

A new project manager may need to be pointed in the right direction until they have enough experience to run complicated projects successfully on their own. 

“The vision for IPMA and APMSA is to move more into consulting and coaching than just training,” says Pieters.

“What makes project management complex is that there is very little routine in the life of a project manager.

"Each and every project entails different resources, environment, size and culture.

"In fact, in reality, each and every project is its own animal and operates in a unique environment.

"This makes it difficult for managers to standardise the level of project management globally,” says Pannenbacker.

“The ultimate is for project management to be built into the strategy of a company.

"Projects fill the entire world. Even at school level learners should be taught to manage their homework as projects.

"Companies invest heavily in project management training, and this is because these skills are not well enough developed at school level,” he added. 

Pieters goes as far as to say that it is project management skills that differentiates rich from poor countries. If we look at Africa, they have a lot of mineral and human resources and there is good economic activity, but their project management skills are lacking. 

“The ability to create wealth lies in project management, which started as early as when the pyramids were built in Egypt.”

In South Africa APMSA also has a programme to train assessors. Part of the certification is a one-day workshop where learners have to come up with a plan to run a project with various groups in competition. 

“It is amazing to see how everybody has the same motivational aspects and the same teacher, yet the results are so different,” says Pannenbacker.

“The project manager sets the order of the project and takes authority. The more educated and experienced they are, the easier it is for them to take control.

"However that ability to balance being democratic, sourcing and accepting input from team members, and making an autocratic call when the project requires strong and decisive leadership, remains an art form that only the well trained, experienced and mature project leader or manager can develop," he says.

The Association for Project Management South Africa (APMSA), situated in Ferndale, Randburg, was launched in the 1990s to address the need for an alternative to the then dominant American understanding of Project Management. The APMSA is a not-for-profit, professional body having been registered as a Section 21 company, and develops and promotes project support service standards and competence standards, while running events to encourage improved knowledge in project management. For more information, please contact 011 787 9721, e-mail Wessel Pieters at




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