Adventures in Babysitting – Avoid Becoming Your Project Team’s Au Pair

workingtogetherWhen I first began my career in project management, my mentor held a coaching session with me and said, “Being a project manager is more than just delivering on time and on budget. It’s about being the steward for your project team.” That quote always resonated with me as I started managing some of my first projects because in a lot of ways managing a project team felt similar to babysitting.

I remember leaving the office late one evening, and a fellow project manager was still in the office making 100 copies of a Power Point presentation for a client and working on filing out incomplete status reports from his team members. When I asked him why his project team hadn’t completed their work, he turned to me and said, “I don’t have the right resources for this project. I spend all day showing them how to do the project work, and things like status reports fall through the cracks. Someone has to do them.”

I immediately started to wonder, was he just an ineffective manager? Or was his project team so completely out of control that a serious intervention was required. It appeared as if some project managers are constantly “putting out fires” and spending the bulk of their day micromanaging or “hand holding” their project team rather than focusing on building quality deliverables or managing customer relationships. Was this what he signed up for?

How do project managers avoid this? While there are many documented techniques on managing situations such as these, I’ve compiled a couple of tips that may help avoid the situation entirely. Keep in mind, there is no substitute for being honest with yourself and your abilities. Reach out to others if you need help.

Start with Effective Hiring

As a project manager, are you actively involved in the hiring process? I’ve talked to several managers who were completely absent from hiring decisions and ended up with team members who did not have the competencies required for the job. The “job mismatch” can lead to frustration of the project manager with having the wrong resources, and frustration of the team for not having realistic expectations for project work. I would encourage any project manager to sit down, document, and communicate the competencies (not skill sets) required for your project team to management and HR. Build these competencies into the job requisition, and discuss them during the interviews.

Engage Senior Management in Setting Expectations

Depending on where you work, the project manager may or may not have the authority to set expectations with project team members. If you are a project manager that has limited authority, talk to upper management about setting baseline expectations for performance and tie those expectations to annual reviews. In some instances, when direction comes from senior management, employees tend to listen.

Follow Through With Accountability

I can’t say this enough, and it’s a frequent message that I tell project managers that I coach and supervise. Lack of accountability leads to lack of credibility. Many times, project managers are concerned with holding their team accountable for the successful delivery of work products. But, PMs must also hold themselves accountable. I once knew a program manager that stated that all of his project managers MUST have their PMP certification before the award of an upcoming contract. By the time the contract was awarded, he was the only project or program manager that did not have the PMP certification (and still doesn’t after two years). Since then, he has lost all credibility with his team, and can barely get the team to sign their time-sheets on time…let alone execute the program.


What are your thoughts? How do you avoid becoming your project team’s au pair? I welcome your comments, suggestions, and feedback.

Balaji Viswanathan

Balaji Viswanathan is the founder of Agni Innovation Labs that helps startups and small businesses with their marketing and management strategy. He has been blogging for the past 8 years on technology, finance and business related topics.

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