I’m not sure what the attrition rate is for Project Managers – I suspect it’s fairly high. I’ve seen all sorts enter the field usually with high aspirations, strong credentials and good intentions, only to flame out after a short and painful period of time. Sometimes, I feel bad for the ones who do not make it; most times, the damage is self-inflicted. Often a good sponsor or mentor can help guide a struggling project manager over various hurdles, but there are those that simply cannot make the needed adjustments.
The key behaviors and traits that I’ve observed that KILL the credibility, performance and careers of Project Managers are:
- Don’t listen: Good project managers get people to talk; great ones know how to listen. Listening is more than being quiet and nodding your head once in a while – it’s about being an active participant in a conversation, eliciting important stuff, filtering out the noise, and efficiently managing the communication process. Listening requires that you get others to talk in a way where they feel good, and they want to give you information. This is the ultimate “win-win” for Project Managers.
- Fail to immediately correct bad team behavior: When working in a collaborative environment, it is important to agree on a set of rules that maps out how the team will communicate, interact, and resolve disputes. These rules are the foundation of team dynamics. When a rule is broken (say a team member acts poorly towards another), the Project Manager must step in immediately and take corrective action. Allowing poor behavior to go uncorrected undermines team unity, creates mistrust, and results in the loss of credibility for the Project Manager.
- Struggle with delegation: A project manager guides a team of people who complete the defined actions in a project plan. In large projects there are literally thousands of tasks that need to be completed in a specific sequence. A Project Manager must learn to effectively distribute the workload and empower others to take ownership of their share of the work.
- Bad follow-up skills: Oh boy, this really is a killer. Project Managers run complex initiatives that have many moving parts. To insure that nothing gets missed, a Project Manager must have a good system for follow-up. Over the course of a day a Project Manager may have hundreds of details to check on – and, without a good system of follow-up, important items often get lost.
- Don’t interact enough with their team: A Project Manager needs regular and constructive interaction with their team members. It is critical that a Project Manager is visible, available, approachable and interested in the actions of the team. I like to touch base each day with the key team leads and members. It can be a simple 5 minute coffee chat, but it needs to happen. This is especially true if you are working with team members who have other responsibilities. If they know you will be walking by asking about their progress, they will be more likely to actually make progress.
- Know more than the project subject matter experts (SME): During a project, there are often complicated technical decisions to be made (like what technology architecture to use). On a project, the subject matter experts must guide the team through the technical options and decision-making process. A project manager should not be using a project to push their own technology agenda. Yes, a Project Manager needs to be an active participant in these discussions, but he/she should never undermine the credibility of the SME’s on the project team.
- Not serious about risk planning: I seem to talk about risk planning just about every day now. Understanding what can go wrong, planning for it, and creating visibility when it happens are an important part of being a project manager. An example of this – you are at a key project juncture, and a major supplier advises that it will be late delivering a component. If at the beginning of your project, you had not identified and created back-up plans for this risk, you will be forced to operate in crisis mode where costs and schedule are negatively impacted. A hint here – something usually goes wrong during a long, complex project. You had better be ready. Take risk planning seriously!
- Not celebrating wins: Project work can be hard, thankless, physically taxing, and career challenging. During a project, I like to set-up milestone celebrations where the team can blow off steam, enjoy a non-working moment together, and just celebrate success. For example, after a successful gate meeting, you take the team out for a celebratory meal. During this event, you thank the team for their efforts, talk positively about the future, and let them enjoy the success. Sometimes, you need to have some team fun!
Now of course, the short-comings above are not necessarily fatal. Good project managers learn and quickly adapt. Often, it takes time to simply figure it all out.
You have the skills to be successful, I know this is true. Stick around, work hard, make adjustments – and, don’t flame out!
What do you think? I’d like to hear from you.
“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts”~ Winston Churchill