An Ultimate Checklist for First-Time Project Managers
You’ve been a part of a team – maybe many times. Now, it is you who will be managing a project. You may be nervous. A lot of people will be looking to you for leadership and guidance; your superiors will be passing judgment on how you do. While you are stewing, you can also take some proactive steps to make sure you are well prepared for this new responsibility. Here are nine tips that should help you.
1. How Well Do You Listen?
A key skill for project managers is effective communication. It is a two-way street, and good leaders have listening high on their list of “to do’s.” Listening, not just hearing, allows you to determine the strengths and weaknesses of your team members; it allows you to identify their concerns and to address them. If you want your team members on your side, make sure they know that you are listening and that you are willing to act upon what you hear.
2. Move Deliberately and Slowly
Project management means problems for you to solve. Rather than rushing headlong into a solution you have devised, stop. Consult your team. Ask for the pros and cons; ask for the suggestions; have them participate in a SWOT analysis with you. Not only will you garner greater loyalty from your team but you will also hear things you may not have considered. When the solution is designed, moreover, you will have your team behind it – they will “own” it along with you and will want to see it work.
And do not hide problems from your team or wait too long to bring them to everyone’s attention. Your team needs to believe that you are being as transparent with them as possible. When you are, they commit to solutions.
3. Be an Expert on Any Tools You Use
If you are using project management software and other collaboration tools, you have some homework to do. You must become the expert; you must become the teacher of others when they experience trouble with those tools. Whatever training you need to get, get it!
4. Become a Servant Leader
Perhaps when you were in college, majoring in some business field, you studied leadership theory. Chances are, you studied the traits of servant leaders, but here is a quick reminder. Servant leadership does not mean that you become a “go-for.” It means the following. Assess your approach to project management with these things in mind.
- Do you value diverse opinions? You don’t have to agree but you do need to consider all points of view.
- Do you foster trust among your team members and of you?
- Do you try to foster and applaud the development of members of your team?
- Do you practice empathy if team members have personal issues? You don’t have to solve them but you do need to validate them.
- Are you humble? Nothing is worse than a project manager who projects himself as smarter or better than those s/he leads.
- Do you encourage and praise team members?
- Do you provide all resources that your team members need? Do you participate in their “pain?” (e.g., stay late if they must)
- Do you “sell” and influence rather than dictate?
5. Find a Mentor
This is your first-time “out of the chute.” Others who have gone before you have experiences to share and can help you avoid mistakes. If you can find a former boss, a colleague who has also managed projects in the same organization, you will have an ally who can make your path much smoother.
6. Develop and Appreciate a Sense of Humor
Projects can be stressful, especially when they are complex and when there are tight deadlines. There is often a need for “comic relief” (even Shakespeare realized this within his darkest tragedies). If you can foster periods of relaxation and humor, your team will become ultimately more productive.
7. Take Responsibility Without Being Authoritative
There is a tendency of first-time project managers to be anxious about how they will be perceived by their superiors as they manage a project for the first time. This is natural, of course. However, in that anxiety, some revert to an authoritarian approach, thinking that they have to impose their thoughts and solutions on their teams. This approach will have the opposite effect. Superiors will see the “newbie” as immature and not ready for leadership roles. If you value your career growth potential, know that you will be ultimately responsible for the project’s success but that you cannot shut out team members and their value. Morale impacts productivity.
8. Embrace Flexibility and Change
As a project progresses, there will be surprises and challenges that were not anticipated. You may have to change course; you may have to tell your team that there is a serious issue and enlist all of their suggestions and ideas; you may have to revise your task allocations; you may have to re-configure tasks. Admitting that you may be on the wrong track to your team and that things have to be altered is a sign of strength, not weakness.
9. Learn to Delegate – It Inspires
This project is your “baby.” You want it to turn out right. New project managers have a tendency to micro-manage, to hover, and to jump in. They hesitate when it comes to delegation. But you must do this. You have to delegate tasks, give deadlines, and put enough trust in your team members that they will produce for you. If you cannot do this, then you may not be ready for this leadership position. When you delegate and trust that your team will come through, you signal to them that you recognize their skills and abilities and that you have faith in them. This is such a critical aspect of your leadership and promotes morale and productivity. If your team knows that you have faith in them, and they have a good relationship with you, they will want to produce for you.
A Final Thought
Think back for a moment about those teachers and/or professors that you liked and respected. What made them so liked? They encouraged you; they expressed faith in your ability to master content and skills; they coached you; they allowed you to step up to the plate independently and demonstrate what you could do; they had expectations that you wanted to meet because they saw you as capable. These are the types of relationships you must establish with your team as you manage a project.