Project Manager – Trainer, Mentor or Coach?

The success of a project lays in the hands of the project team, but how should we, as Project Managers interact with our team members in order to get the best out of their potential? Which is the most appropriate development path for a particular context?


Where do we want to go? How ready are the people in our team to make a success out of this project? Which is the North on the map?


According to PMBOK, one of the Project Human Resource Management Processes we are responsible for is “develop project team”, defined as “improving the competencies and interaction of team members to enhance project performance”. In other words, to make sure the project will be a success we need to make sure that we have the skills and competencies that we need. We can identify where we are but what road will take us there?

In the following lines I will refer to three possible paths we can take: training, mentoring and coaching.


Training is a one to one or one to many learning process focused on gaining more knowledge and/or developing different skills.
How, when and why do we train our team? When is training really needed and when is it a waste of resources?There are two options here. Either we train our people or we send them to training (internally or externally). In approaching this path we need to make sure that the development objectives are clear for everyone.


Training is needed when we identify a gap, when people do not have enough knowledge, information or skills to conduct the activities they are supposed to perform with maximum efficiency and we do training in preparation for action.


We can let a new team member struggle to reinvent the wheel or we invest the necessary time, effort and money to train him.

We can teach the team members to use a common tool neededfor the project, we spend time explaining processes, we send project team members to an external training on a critical capability. We ask one of the team members in Hong Kong, London, Bucharest or Mumbai to give an online training to her colleagues.

Training turns into a cost without return when either we send for training someone who already has the needed knowledge or skills or when we do not take the time to make sure the training event will have a consistent follow up. To have results we need practice.


Mentoring has roots in Ancient Greece, the name Mentor comes from the character in Homer’s Odyssey to whom Odysseus entrusted the care of his son,Telemachus.

The mentor is the model, the experienced person in whose shadow we find ideas, examples, stories, motivation but with whom we always interact from child ego state. Which are the advantages of being the mentor of our team and how is mentoring a limiting approach?

When we have new people in the team or the organization we need to take them under our arm or designate someone in the team who will show them around, who will explain how the things are done around there. We can invite our team members to learn from us while we are doing things. To observe and reflect whilewe are running a meeting or we are negotiating with a customer.

The Mentoring relationship is a father-son type of interaction, when the father knows better, he is wiser and the child is curious to know more. The mentor gives recipes for a better life for improved performance, she is feeding our need to hear stories and believe in heroes.

Mentoring is a medium to long term path and it is limited to the skills, knowledge and the experience of the mentor. We cannot give more than we have or can so, the protégé cannot get more than the Mentor has to offer.

Through mentoring we create similar ways of doing things, common culture an values. Many organizations use mentoring relationship as an induction procedure.

If mentoring is good for juniors, it becomes frustrating an useless when we are forcing it on project team members that are seniors.
Like plants we would not grow too much in the shadow of a big tree. As mentors, after a while, we need to empower our team members to take the distance and courage to explore on their own.


If more than two decades ago coaching was present exclusively in sports and in education, now it is introduced at almost all levels in business and personal life. These days we hear this word at least once a day. But, what is really a coaching type of interaction and when should a PM behave like a coach with his team? On the other hand, when is coaching counterproductive?

The current meaning of the word coaching comes from the name of the Hungarian village Kocs where the wagon used for travelling was invented. This noun is being at the bases of the verb to coach – to guide a person to where he/she wants to get. Many declare Tim Gallwey, the well known tennis coach, of being the one who started the idea of coaching at a business level trough his book „The Inner Game of Tennis”.

Coaching is a journey, a conversation from adult to adult, where we ask questions, provoke, reframe so that our colleague is ready to enable change or find certain solutions.
At project level the best situation to use a coaching interaction is when a team member comes to us in search for a solution, but they are capable enough to find a brilliant solution themselves. If we give them the answer or one answer every time they ask we will create a dependent relationship that will eat a lot of our limited time.

At a very subtle level , by giving solutions we are discounting the others capability to find solutions by themselves.
Coaching is about creating the space for the other’s mind to expand, it is about unleashing potential, it is about active listening and powerful questioning.

Coaching is a Journey about the other finding his own solutions and empowering him to make consistent steps towards the desired destination.

We do not act from a coach chair when the solution cannot be found because of lack of skills, knowledge or information.

Our role is to challenge our people to think, make decisions and act responsibly and coaching is the path that supports all these.

When Pablo Picasso was asked by an admirer how could he be helped, the painter replied “step away from my light!”. Metaphorically speaking, coaching brings a different light in the client’s space so that he could discover new ways, solutions, ideas.

For a professional human resource management the Project Manager needs to know which are the development processes and how can they be implemented in the most effective way. This will impact the overall performance of the team, the final outcome, the budget as well as the career path of each person within a project or organization.

When Alice in Wonderland found herself at crossroads she asked the cat which way shall she take…and the cat replied (with her boss in blind cc  ): “it depends on where you want to go”.

Before embarking on any particular path we need to remember to define the objective, the destination and, according to the specific needs of our team, to decide for training when there is a lack of skills and knowledge, for mentoring when we want to grow our people according to our own way, to show them the way or to coaching when the person in front of us has all the resources in order to perform.
We also need to clarify the fact that one path does not exclude the other and they co-exist for every individual growth. Needs change over time and from project to project, information becomes obsolete, we need to keep an eye on people development and our own growth as well.


We are like painters.Let’s take some time today to choose the right combination of colours for our team and project!