Overseeing Unfamiliar Projects Common Among Managers, Survey Shows

MENLO PARK, CA -- Learning by leading is a popular concept in many offices, a new survey suggests. Forty percent of executives polled said it's common for managers to oversee projects for which they have limited experience.

The national poll includes responses from 150 senior executives -- including those from human resources, finance and marketing departments -- with the nation's 1,000 largest companies. It was conducted by an independent research firm and developed by Accountemps, the world's first and largest specialized staffing service for temporary accounting, finance and bookkeeping professionals.

Executives were asked, "How common or rare is it for managers at your firm to oversee projects for which they have limited experience?" Their responses:

Very common 7%
Somewhat common 33%
Somewhat rare 47%
Very rare  13%

"Many leadership skills -- such as the ability to motivate people and inspire innovation -- are transferable, and companies frequently ask experienced managers to oversee a range of initiatives, including those outside of their immediate expertise," said Max Messmer, chairman of Accountemps and author of Motivating Employees For Dummies® (John Wiley & Sons, Inc.). "This is especially common as firms strive to maintain productivity despite leaner staffing levels."

Messmer noted that managers who take on assignments outside of their scope often must work harder to win employee trust. "Staff members may initially be skeptical of leaders who come from outside of the ranks. Managers in this situation must show they value their team's expertise and encourage everyone working on the project to share ideas and information."

Messmer offered additional tips for reducing the learning curve on new projects:

  • Let the experts be the experts. Rely on your team for their knowledge and tactical skills, and focus your efforts on motivating employees and keeping projects on track.
  • Don't rush to judgment. Avoid making quick decisions. Instead, consider the situation from several different angles and gather a variety of feedback before establishing a plan.
  • Take all perspectives into account. While you want to solicit various viewpoints, don't be unduly influenced by one or two particularly vocal team members. Strong, silent types often are especially observant and can provide valuable input.
  • Give credit where it's due. Thank employees and coworkers who share their insights, and give them credit for their ideas.

Accountemps has more than 325 offices throughout North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand, and offers online job search services at

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