To be honest, I didn’t ask myself this question on the first day of my career. I assumed my current position in March 2022 when I was 20 years old. All my colleagues had already been with the firm for 5-10 years, and I had barely time to get a university degree. At that time I didn’t actually have any technical knowledge, which would be useful for any, even a beginner, project manager.

Slowly getting up to speed, I finally learnt to identify my stakeholders, who turned out to be engineers and my suppliers.

Hand in hand, or…

When I had already quietly sorted out my duties, I realised a strange thing, or rather the difference between the work of engineers and project managers: engineers had to be led to meetings with the technical department of suppliers (for design approval) literally by the hand, to make sure that the discussion did not go in the wrong direction. When I sat in a meeting among PMs, they had a very different look at their conferences. Everything was organic, understated, according to plan. And at one point it came to me: there are generalists who are often turned out to be PMs, and there are specialists who outside of their hard skills don’t know much about anything. And then my approach to work and in principle to all my activities changed.

What are specialists focused on?

The term specialist itself suggests that a person is a professional, but often in a narrow field. That is the difference. Based on my firm’s experience, specialists, i.e. engineers, should be directed (by the way, they can be not only engineers, but any professionals who are focused on a task, not on the whole process). Not in the sense that they are not independent, but they just don’t look at project stuff as broadly as PMs. The specialist’s job is to concentrate on one particular piece of work, even if it’s as important as designing mechanical structures. I’ve noticed that specialists are often limited in communication. For example, PMs are open to any form of contact, be it a call or a message. Their engineers have to be begged to talk. And if PMs start a call with their team-mates with a greeting to warm up the situation, the technical team goes straight to the point. In conclusion, I can’t say that it’s bad, it’s just a bit different from the work of other teams.

An outsider’s view on this topic

In May 2023, I came across the mentoring programme from PMI Poland Chapter by chance and I was lucky enough to become a mentee for 5 months. I was unspeakably lucky with my mentor as we both had experience in manufacturing firms. One day I shared with him my problems in working with engineers (specialists). The problem was that my vision of the project and theirs were different. Let’s say the engineers had it perfect, while mine was realistic and practical. And my mentor agreed and confirmed that this situation exists and it is popular. And its solution is to consider the interests of both parties and find a common solution. How did this story end up in the project? Disputes within the team, as I am a generalist, taking into account different factors that threaten the project, while the specialists, my colleagues, see only technical problems.


The world through the eyes of generalists

Generalists, in my opinion, look at the world from a wide angle. As far as working in projects is concerned, it is not uncommon to find generalists leading teams of specialists. It’s fascinating to observe young individuals transitioning into generalist roles, while specialists may remain in their positions within the team for an extended period. I am 22 now and I can safely say that I am a generalist. I don’t have experience in 10 roles, so I can’t say that I’ve learnt all project links in the same way. Far from it. The difference is that generalists communicate a lot with different departments to bring a project to a successful closure. They gather information from different departments, but also should deal with consequences. Of course, the world is not perfect for them either. Sometimes the technical background can be lacking, and you have to dedicate a day just to technical drawing with your head. But that’s the point, isn’t it? Specialists dedicate themselves to one area in business, while generalists know a little bit of everything. That’s the difference between the two and I think it’s beautiful.

Generalists – universal specialists who apply skills to life

The title speaks for itself. I recently realised how much soft skills help me in life. A good friend of mine is launching her business which will be consulting and mentoring PMs in project management. And guess what? She called me, a young girl, to help her! I’ve only been here a few weeks, but I feel confident. Being a generalist at work develops a lot of qualities, in particular good communication and the ability to find a common language. And the further I go, the more I realise that a broad perspective opens doors to the world and allows me to reach new heights.


So… What makes a generalist more challenging compared to being a specialist?

In the manufacturing world where I work, PM is involved in the implementation of components from the moment of engineering idea to the moment of serial production. From day to day, the PM is “touching” different things in the project, such as budget, resources, discussions about the quality of the components, and the time to manufacture them. To deal with all this, the PM takes on the function of a generalist, recognising, receiving and managing information about the project. Key to this is communication, the ability to find common ground and agree even when it is not easy. This is probably the reason why generalists have a harder time than specialists. They are responsible not only for components or processes, but also for the team and the overall achievement of the goal.