Somebody recently asked me, on Quora, to mention lessons learned relevant for somebody about to begin his first employment as a Project Manager. I am honestly more used to provide support on specific project management issues, methodology-related doubts, problem-solving matters, rather than project management as such. Writing that answer, gave me the chance to think about what it takes to be a project manager.
The project manager as a leader
The Project Manager is a leader. There is enough literature around about how to be a good leader; I won’t spend more than a couple of words about it.
You will sometimes find tough to get people to follow your lead. I learned that most of the times you do not have to lead anyone. People are perfectly capable of making the right choices working as a team, but sometimes they lose the focus on the way, or they are distracted. Moreover, that is where you jump in and drive them through the storm to the treasure island.
As a freshly appointed project manager, you will soon face some situations that require skills which nobody teaches in traditional PM courses. In fact, being a project manager needs a good deal of soft skills. That is why some PMs find the job easier than others even if they cannot count on any certification.
The project manager as a people’s person
Being a good judge of character sometimes is incredibly helpful to understand and even foresee actions and reactions of your team’s member. However, even if you don’t have such quality, you can eventually acquire it. Talk and listen to your staff, as a team and as individuals. You have no idea how many interesting conversations just naturally come out in front of the coffee machine. In general, knowing everyone’s strength and weaknesses could be eventually crucial for the right exit of your project.
The project manager is also usually a lone ranger. You have resources and stakeholders, but you rarely get the chance to spend time with other project managers. Getting to share your experiences is very useful when you will face (because you will) some defeats. Your bosses will ask you to run projects without the needed resources, comply with unrealistic commitments, work with unreliable collaborators. There is no way out of that for your liver if you do not learn how to let go. It will happen again, and again. Just make yourself more ready for the next time.
The project manager as a student
At the beginning of your experience as a PM, your knowledge will grow steadily. However, that is hardly enough. If you want your career to progress, you need to be always hungry for new knowledge. Learn about new methods and techniques, read about other PM’s experience. Ultimately, extend your skills to other disciplines and specialisations: risk management, change management, business analysis.
Ultimately, as a Project Manager, you need to get things done, any other quality becomes meaningless otherwise. That is the primary purpose of our role. You are your employer’s Mr Wolf, either you get things done, or you fix them (and get them done). No other possibility is out there for a Project Manager worthy of the name.