There is a never ending debate on this topic. My personal opinion is yes. Of course there are certain conditions. First of all, the project manager needs to be willing to learn the basics of the new industry and the common language. Then the organization and the project need to support that (if your organization requires you to be an expert in that field you will probably fail on short term). Last but not least you need to have the domain experts onboard and you need to be able to trust them. And they need to be aware that you are not a domain expert but a project management expert.
I had a debate with a colleague once on what is more valueble for a project: to have a good and experienced team or to have a good and experienced project manager. It is clear having both is the ideal situation, but this is not always the case. If you would have to choose between having an experienced team with a not so experienced project manager versus having an outstanding PM with an average team what would you choose? Each alternative would have it’s benfits from organizational groth point of view, bad PM with bad team will be clearly a strugle. But from project point of view what can be best?
In my view, a bad project manager can lead even a good team on the wrong path. This clearly depends on the organisation type, on how much power the project manager has and the level of management control in the organisation. But this is a real posibility.
On the other side, a good project manager will be able to identify the strenghts and weaknesses of his team and make a strategy in such a way that the potential is maximized. The project manager can develop plans to increase the knowledge of the team and even bring external experts.
If you decide you need to improve your skills, what is the area where you will focus first? One answer (best answer) would be to analyze your strong and week areas an start from there. But this is not the purpose of my dilemma. What change in your skill set would have the most dramatic impact? What is more important to have as project manager? To have excellent project management technical skills, to know perfectly all processes, tools,methods, framework and to be able to apply them flawlessly or to have outstanding soft skills, to be a leader, motivator, communicator?
In my view the soft skills are the focus area. They have the biggest impact on the performance of the team and the support you get from upper management layers.
When I was first thinking to start a blog, one of the initial actions I took was to make a list of potential topics. Leader vs Manager was on top of my list as this is one of the topics I am thinking a lot. Since then I found a ton of articles, blogs and presentations on this subject. Many great ones. So I am not going to define what each of the roles means, what is best and how to be one. Instead I will try to cover a slightly different aspect. As project manager, most people would agree, you should be both a leader and manager. The dilemma is where to find the balance.
The answer depends on your abilities and preferences, the organization you work in, the project and the team. I believe that a good PM is the one that most easily adapt and is able to easily change the balance between the two. Ask yourself:
Am I primary a Leader or a Manager?
What others think I am?
What do I like mostly to be?
Is this the best approach for myself, my company, my project?
What do I need to adjust?
Sometimes asking this kind of questions can help you to perform better and increase the chances of success for your projects.