Wisdom comes from experience.
As a new project manager facing unfamiliar challenges in an unfamiliar workplace, you may be feeling a little light on wisdom. Project manager responsibilities can be wide-ranging and you’ll unfortunately find that not every office has a robust training program designed to set you up for success. If you’ve found yourself in a “sink or swim” environment you’d probably like it if someone — anyone — would take you aside and offer a bit of advice to keep your head above water as you figure things out.
Well, today is your lucky day. We’ve collected ten pieces of advice that will make project manager responsibilities a little easier for new employees. Here are 10 things that we recommend every project manager do when they are early in their career:
Yes, you’ll want to “walk the walk” as well, but it’s important when you’re first starting out to learn the language and the jargon of project management. You don’t want to find yourself needing to run to Google when a senior project manager asks you about approach analyses, Gantt charts, change freezes, and repeatables. There’s a lot of terminology associated with project management and you’ll want to familiarize yourself with it.
But the job isn’t done when you understand the lingo. You should also learn how to “translate” these terms when speaking with non-PM colleagues. An important part of your job is being able to effectively communicate with different teams and departments, so breaking down PM jargon into actionable tasks will be a useful skill.
One of the most important project manager responsibilities is being able to convert your team’s ideas into project success. The best way to achieve this is to listen to your team, clients, and internal stakeholders. Being an active listener allows you to learn more about your team’s strengths and build stronger professional relationships with them. Listening and asking questions based on what you’ve learned will be the foundation of your career as a PM.
It’s natural to want to solve problems immediately when they are presented to you, but rushing into a project before doing the leg work will lead to failure in most cases. Remember to take the time to properly analyze and define project needs and identify risks. A project manager that rushes the start of a project is one that will need to re-do much of their work. Project management is about efficiency, so taking the time to prepare is vital.
You’ll get more out of your team if they trust your decision making skills. If there is no trust within your team, every member will question what the next person is doing and you’ll find yourself in a quagmire of suspicion. Trust is a two-way street. You’ll need to become skilled at developing a culture of openness and trust in order to connect with your team and deliver successful projects.
How can you build trust with your team? Your behavior should be transparent and consistent; your team should know what to expect from you. You should also be comfortable asking for feedback from your team and implementing the suggestions that make sense. Additionally, when you say you will do something, do it. Build trust by delivering on your promises.
Does your office use a specific suite of project management tools? Learn them inside and out. Software and other tools should not be an impediment to getting your job done — they should be an asset. If you are familiar with one tool but your office uses a different one, don’t assume that your knowledge will transfer. Take time to learn the tools that your office prefers. Bonus points if you can find ways to optimize how your team uses tools.
Another of the key project manager responsibilities is managing the expectations of stakeholders and clients. Even if your timeline and scope are perfect, when the client has unrealistic expectations your project will be in trouble. Unrealistic expectations can lead to inflated budgets and a ballooning schedule. It’s important to take the time to keep everyone involved on the same page and provide regular check-ins so that no one becomes confused about what is possible.
A project team will have a lot of different personalities on it and some of those personalities will clash. A project team that works in harmony is a successful project team, so you’ll want to learn how to work with and manage a variety of personality types. Mismanaging conflicts can harm both the team and the project as a whole, but when you resolve conflicts the right way they can actually make your team stronger and more bonded.
When working to resolve conflicts, it is important to face the conflict head-on, empathize with different viewpoints, stay calm, seek compromises, and be ready to “forgive and forget.”
A project manager needs to have excellent time management skills. A delay can cripple or even kill an otherwise successful project. Take the last few minutes of each work day to think about what needs to be accomplished tomorrow. Are there any challenges? Is there anything that might stop your success? Analyze and prioritize the coming days and delegate team members to solve problems. You should also use this “tomorrow time” to make sure your schedules are up to date so everyone knows what’s happening and when.
As a new project manager, you will probably feel like you are in over your head. That’s normal. Seeking out and getting advice from someone that has been in your shoes is a great way to gain knowledge and perspective on the issues you’ll be facing. If your organization doesn’t have a formal mentorship program you can approach a seasoned colleague that you respect or reach out to someone not in your organization whose career path you’d like to emulate.
Sometimes things go wrong despite our best efforts, and sometimes we can’t solve those problems until they happen. When “it” hits the fan you want to give the impression that you are calm, collected, and have everything under control (even if you are screaming internally). Don’t panic — that won’t help anyone. Your team will look to you for how they should act. When disaster strikes you need to act fast. Come up with some solutions to the problem and sit down with the experts in your organization to gather new ideas. Be proactive and resilient.
Project management can be a challenging career, but it is also an exciting one. A successful project manager will master the skills discussed above and they will also be open to learning new things every day of their career. Happy learning!