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What it Takes to be an Effective Project Manager

Earlier in the year, I worked on a turnaround project that needed some additional project management discipline and rigor.

One of my key responsibilities was to work with the existing project managers to help build up their skills, tools, and expertise with managing creative teams. After the initial discovery and mentoring sessions, I generated some guidance to help them focus on becoming more effective project managers.

  • Empathy and listening is key to being a successful project manager. Ask your team members “Where can I help?” and then listen to them. They will tell you where they could use help or are having issues. Helping your teams work through roadblocks is one the most important ways to demonstrate your value within your organization.
  • Be an escalation point for your teams. One of our key roles as project managers is to ensure that open action items and concerns of your team members are being addressed in a timely manner. Related to this is being accessible to your teams. If you appear too busy or unapproachable, your team members will not escalate to you in a timely manner.
  • Teams do not communicate well. It is our job to ensure that any miscommunication or delay in communication are dealt with and “beaten down” in a timely manner. If you are good at communication and promoting collaboration, you will go a long way as a project manager in your career.

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  • Get your hands dirty. On every project that I have worked on, there is a lot of important work that no one team is assigned to do, yet it needs to be done for the project to be successful. Examples of this are “herding cats”, action item follow-up, procuring additional software or resources, generating drafts of documents for the team to react to, etc.
  • Think strategically and take the time to think about the bigger picture. Someone needs to help guide and focus the team on “The Goal”. Team members rely on project managers to think about the bigger picture and help align them
  • Keep a watchful eye on dependencies and their impacts on milestones. Successful project managers do not track all project activities, but rather, they focus on the key
  • Stay focused on the Top 3-4 critical issues that could delay or derail the team’s progress.
  • Make sure the team takes time to prepare for key stakeholder meetings. No matter how ready someone says they are for a key meeting, you should require your team members to conduct “dry runs” of the presentation content. At minimum, the presentation materials should be reviewed and proofread prior to sharing with stakeholders.
  • Shield the team from as much administrative work as possible. It is our jobs as project managers to keep our teams focused on the most valuable tasks and where they can be most productive.

In summary, effective project managers need to extend their expertise beyond the tools, processes, and mechanics of project management and embrace “human-centric” behaviors.

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