Being a project manager is never easy. You’ve been given a project to shepherd to completion. After a short grace period, you are expected to have all the pieces in place and start to deliver. Getting things organized and set up for success is not an easy task, but it’s the task you’re going to fulfill. Here are 10 ways to improve your skills and be a better project manager:
Get into the Details. Knowledge is power – and lack of knowledge is a serious weakness. If you don’t know, you are likely to make mistakes. You’ll find it hard to handle excuses and complicated delay explanations from team members. Since you can’t know everything on day one, focus on knowing what you need for tomorrow, or for the coming week. Spend some time learning before asking the next question; it will place you in a better position, and give you better knowledge of the project as a whole as time goes on.
Read the Manual. Yes, exactly as you did last time you purchased a new gadget. It is amazing how much knowledge exists in company documentation, or even on the public website. If you can demonstrate your knowledge of the company history to this point, your team will respect you and give you credit for the attention to detail already shown.
Keep Silent for as Long as Possible. Sit back, observe, and learn. You have a short grace period, and make sure you use it! Do not try to reinvent the wheel on your first day. If you have a good idea, try to keep it until a later date. Being a better project manager often means being a listener more than anything else.
Use the Right Tools. Project management tools are there to assist you. Check carefully and find out which tools are currently being used (and how), then start to familiarize yourself with them. The tools are already being used within the company workflows. By using them, you will gain a better starting point, and an easier and faster streamline into the company workflows.
Show Empathy. You are new to the project, but others have been tackling these issues for a long time. Never dismiss a challenge, limitation, or constraint. Even if it doesn’t appear to be genuine, it is an indication that something is out of sync. Understanding the issue will give you information as to the source of the problem, and will create some goodwill within the team.
Identify a Good Mentor. A good Mentor will not be part of the immediate team, but close enough to your activity and environment to be familiar with it. Don’t hide the fact that you have such a mentor – in fact, do just the opposite! Let it be known that you consult with others that are familiar with the project, and you are willing to learn as you go along.
Use Escalation Wisely. Approaching someone’s manager through escalation is an easy solution to complicated situations. However, escalation is a non-renewable resource; if you use it too early, or too frequently, it becomes ineffective. Consider using escalation very carefully, as it can also cause negative feelings within the project team.
Look at the “Big Picture.” Team members are busy dealing with the short term – only mid-level managers are thinking longer term. When managing a project, do not focus only on the weekly/monthly tasks. It is your job to see the big picture, to see the entire life cycle of the project, and address issues before they become real issues. Good project managers can manage a project to completion, but a better project manager has a birds’ eye view of the project at all times.
Get Involved. You may not like it, but a project manager must be able to get his hands dirty. It could be as simple as taking a box from the lobby to the conference room, or producing a report that nobody else wants to. This demonstrates your total commitment to the project, and how you will do whatever it takes to get things done – and your team will notice!
Stay Calm. Staying calm is absolutely critical. A project manager that goes into panic mode will only create more panic among the team. You are the rock of the project – if you portray calm, others will be calm. If you are panicked, others will seek to abandon ship.