This situation can be very tricky for a truly robust project manager who provides -- or wants to provide -- strong leadership and guidance to the team. It can lead to conflicts of interest and power struggles that can leave team morale in shreds.
When you see project managers in these environments, they've typically been relegated to a more administrative function. They essentially provide resource scheduling and reporting on data such as project profit and loss, rather than being empowered to provide much true leadership. (I discussed this in a little more detail in my first post.)
So should we eliminate the project management position and have the creative leads or account managers take on those responsibilities? Well, no.
Companies that attempt to eliminate the project management position from their ranks are ultimately just pushing this responsibility to other members of the existing team. Those members may believe they are able to take on the role of project manager, but more likely are too busy with their current responsibilities. Not to mention, they are nowhere near as knowledgeable or skilled in project management as they would like to believe.
The challenge lies in the perception of what it takes to manage and lead a project team from start to finish. If you were to ask your creative team or your account team, I'm willing to bet their description of leading teams would be inadequate. And much of the job they describe will be tasks they simply don't have an interest in performing.
So what do we do in these situations?
To me, the answer lies in accountability. If creative or account teams are going to claim leadership positions on projects, they need to be clearly identified by senior management as owning of the final, holistic project outcome. These project leaders must understand that their success -- and the project's success -- is tied directly to their ability to make all of the parts come together, even when many of the parts don't fall squarely in their functional purview.
Have you experienced this kind of conflict? How was it resolved?