The Project Management Guidelines of the Tasmanian Government provides an overview of the essential components of a project management methodology. It also addresses the question: "What skills does a project manager need?" However, it makes no mention of subject matter expertise in its list of required project manager skills, and the implication is that such expertise is not necessary to run a project successfully.
Rob Thomsett, the author of the book Radical Project Management advocates that project managers don't need to know the gory technical details and should be project facilitators and integrators rather than managers.
Does that mean that such expertise is not needed for a project manager to run successful projects?
Johanna Rothman of the Rothman Consulting group believes differently. She believes that the project manager needs to rapidly gain an understanding of the domain, specifically the problem-space and the architecture part of the solution-space. If you don't know what problem(s) you're trying to solve in the project, how can you know when the project is done? If you don't know the architecture, you can't understand the technical risks. You may not understand all the technical risks, but without understanding the architecture, you don't even know what questions to ask.
This author believes that a project manager does need to have subject matter expertise as well as experience in running projects in the particular field. The purpose of the paper is to look at these ideas and present case studies to underscore the point.
1. Tasmanian government, 2001, http://www.projectmanagement.tas.gov.au/f_sheets/projectmanagement_fsV1.0.htm
2. Thomsett, R, 2002, Radical Project Management
3. Rothman, J, 2004, http://www.jrothman.com/weblog/2004/12/how-technical-does-project-manager.html