You’ve worked hard for months – maybe years – to become a project manager. You’ve landed your first job, and are ready to assume a leadership role and see a project through from start to finish. Now the question on your mind may be, “What comes next and what can I expect?”
As a project manager, you can expect to wear many hats. You will be overseeing every step of the project, ensuring that your team stays on task and on time. You’ll be responsible for making sure milestones are met and managing relationships with stakeholders and your team. No two days will look the same. Essentially, you need to be able to do it all and do it well. Don’t let it overwhelm you though. As long as you are well-organized and do proper planning, implementing, and daily monitoring of your project, you’ll be on the path to success.
I had the opportunity to connect with a couple of fellow project managers recently, and was able to ask what advice they would give to someone new to project management. We came up with the following:
Find a Mentor
The value of a mentor cannot be underestimated. Reach out to your network and seek the guidance of someone who is seasoned in project management. They will be able to share their wisdom with you along the way. “My first gig as a project manager was overwhelming. My head was spinning at the end of every day for the first few weeks,” said Briann H., a consultant and project manager in South Florida. “I was inexperienced and found myself in a ‘sink or swim’ situation, and in the beginning, it felt more like I was sinking. I called a former boss and asked if he’d be willing to be my mentor. His help was immeasurably valuable and helped me feel like I was swimming more than sinking as the project moved along.”
Expect to Make Mistakes
When you’re new at the job and want to be as perfect as possible, don’t be too hard on yourself. Mistakes are an inevitable part of any job and you’re allowed the occasional error. The important thing is to see these mistakes as learning opportunities. When you slip up, make the best out of a bad situation and demonstrate that you are willing to correct your errors and learn from your mistakes. “The first mistake I ever made on my first project as a manager was a doozy…something that set our timeline back by more than two weeks. I was mortified and wanted to crawl under my desk and not come out. But instead, I faced the problem head-on, apologized to my team for the setback, and used it as a learning experience. I still turn red when I think about that error, but I’ve made plenty more since then and always see them as a chance to learn,” said Pritesh Lobo, PMP.
Learn to Listen
As a new boss, you may be prepared to dole out the duties and have others listening to you. While that is part of your job, perhaps more important is the ability to really listen to others. That doesn’t mean just hearing what they have to say, but truly making an effort to understand it, question it, and learn from it. “Think back to the worst manager you’ve ever had. Chances are, he or she didn’t do much listening or connecting and just barked out orders, right?” said Patti Thomas, a project manager with over 20 years’ experience. “Your relationships with your team is just as important as your project timeline. Make the effort to connect and really listen. When you do, they’ll listen to you too.”
Your relationship with others is vital to the success of your project. Being a good listener is a sign of an effective leader, and it is an excellent way to show that you’re engaged with your colleagues and respect their time and contributions, as well.
Get to Know Your Team
“Make an effort to remember the names of your team members. It won’t happen overnight, but take the time to get to know them and make genuine connections with them. Get familiar with the folks you’ll be working with and they’ll be your biggest allies throughout the life of your project,” said Briann H.
Beyond the “who,” it is crucial to become as familiar as possible with the industry subject matter of your project(s). For example: if you manage projects in a different industry each year, there will likely be a big learning curve as you begin. Don’t be afraid to lean on people who are subject matter experts on the topic until you feel acclimated and well-versed enough to confidently answer questions. Being open to learning from others demonstrates strength in your leadership and creates a relationship based on trust and mutual respect with others on your team.
Be Open to Learning
Your days of education aren’t over once you have your degree or certificate. As a professional, you will continue to learn each day at work. Everything from how to approach problems, acquiring new skills, understanding work relationship dynamics, and technical know-how are learning points. The workforce brings a whole different level of learning and education. Stay open to expanding your knowledge and skill set every day. You don’t have to know everything on your first day on the job (or even your last!). What’s important is that you’re willing to learn as you go, and apply your new-found knowledge to improve your project or professionalism somehow.
Always Think Ahead
Your time management skills will be put to the test as a project manager. A delay can cripple or completely derail your project. So, at the end of each day, take a few minutes to think about what needs to be accomplished tomorrow. Had you faced any challenges that day? Is there anything that may come up to delay things or are there interpersonal issues you need to address? A quick check-in with yourself and your project in which you take some time to reflect on the day you just had to analyze and prioritize the day ahead will help you stay organized. “Use this time to determine what you need to delegate to your team members the following day or prepare for any meetings you have the next day. This way, you’ll go to work the next day with an idea of what you are walking into and prepared to tackle it all,” advised Lobo.
Project management can be challenging, and at times may have you feeling overwhelmed, but project management is also deeply rewarding. Even new project managers can be successful! Master interpersonal and organization skills. Don’t see mistakes as failure, but as learning opportunities. Be open to learning new things every day of your career, both from others and what the project itself teaches you.
Do you have any tips for new project managers? Please share with us in the comments!