New project managers have to build the experience to match their strengths and skills. These tips will help make your project management and leadership a success.
1. Get to know the current work culture
Every organisation has a different work culture. Build your network and hone your communication skills – including informal communication – so that you’re saturated with your new team’s dynamics.
2. Be approachable and accessible
As a new project manager you’ll be aware that you have much to offer, and even more to learn if you want your decision-making to be on the money. Stay accessible to your team and create a work dynamic by which team members know they can come to you with comments, questions or insights.
3. Identify all stakeholders
A project can often have an overwhelming number of players and people who are actively invested in a project’s outcome. Identify all the stakeholders. Clarify their roles and motivations. This will make it easier for you to keep communication channels fully open as the project ensues. It will also help ensure you have a greater understanding of who to contact – and what they need to know – if roadblocks crop up.
4. Make your project notes as detailed as possible
Even a school leaver in their very first paid role is encouraged to take copious notes. As a new project manager, the same applies to you. Communication and knowledge sharing is essential to your role. Keep detailed project notes and share them so that you – and your team – have as deep an understanding of a project’s requirements and risks as possible.
5. Don’t sit on problems. Air them out.
New project managers may feel initially overwhelmed. That totally understandable anxiety (and even a mild touch of impostor syndrome – it happens) could lead to your playing your cards close to your chest, especially where issues and challenges are concerned. In fact, this potential desire to appear on top of things could be detrimental to both the project’s success and your own leadership.
Transparency is a tried and tested great approach to getting things done. If you’ve spotted a risks, a challenge or an issue, communicate it. Similarly, if a team member comes to you with an issue, increase the communication channels as you see fit. Aim to always communicate potential risks and issues in advance with your team and manager. Everyone will appreciate that you are clearly deeply invested in the project and are willing to fight fires before they even happen to ensure the project’s smooth delivery.
There’s also truth in the old saying that many heads are better than one. You don’t have to know all the answers. As project manager you do, however, have to have strong communication and decision-making skills, and ensure that potential roadblocks are made transparent to those most able to fix them.
6. Be willing to question ideas to aid your understanding
New project managers may feel concerns about rocking the boat. However, you’ve been brought in to manage a project and ensure its successful delivery. You have to ensure you have confidence in the expertise and thinking of your team. If you don’t understand the ramifications or processes of any element of the project, ask someone in the know to explain it to you. This is especially useful if you have a technical team involved. Once you understand issues, you’re better placed to challenge their validity or give a task/goal the green light.
7. Make realistic promises, not optimistic ones
It’s important to set realistic expectations. This doesn't mean giving yourself an easy ride by woefully underpromising. It means setting genuinely realistic expectations: ‘if the team works effectively given the permitted budget/resource/timeframes, it should realistically achieve X’. This is part of being determined to stand by your word and meet your goals, and can help build rapport with clients.
It's vital not to overpromise just because it's what the client wants to hear. You want the client to trust you, not admire you - only to have their unrealistic dreams shattered as the project nears completion.
8.Trust and respect your team’s expertise
This is a big one! Your team is in place because, presumably, they’re generally thought to be good at what they do. And the likelihood is that they’ve been there longer than you, and have already had first-hand experience of the kind of projects you’re handling now. With that in mind, listen to your team’s insights and proposal. You can reject them after careful consideration, but make sure you understand them and have taken them onboard.
Trust is a big part of mutual respect, and establishing trust is a huge part of leadership. Your team has to trust you, a new project manager they’ve probably never seen in action before. You’ll make that building of rapport easier if you trust them, too.
9. Aim for watertight PM documentation
Communication and PM tools are there to help you. The risk log, issue log, schedule, agile software (if you’re project managing an agile team) , business case document and feasibility study (all part of project initiation) should all be regularly updated and monitored assets that you can and the team can rely on.
10. Give your team a shared sense of ownership
Motivate your team and inspire them to feel a shared sense of ownership in the success of the project. Delegating work to them is only a part of helping them achieve that feeling of co-owning the project. You may also want to think about sharing your knowledge, experiences, insights and resources. Train your team in areas where they would benefit from that extra knowledge. The hard training work you put in today – which seemingly eats into your tight schedule – could grow the leadership skills of your team and make them more productive than ever. And that, of course, reduces your own workload – and it minimises the risk of any project, too.
11. Get scribbling on the whiteboard at team meetings. Give your team a focus point.
Sometimes team meetings can get very talk-heavy, but all those ideas aren’t being noted down, categorised or prioritised. Then old ground starts being covered, and the rabbit hole opens up. Keep those meetings moving forward! Stand up and get the whiteboard out. While people talk, write down their key actionable points as a visual aid. It can really hone the team’s focus and result in post-meeting actions, too. It’s always a relief to have a meeting that results in something getting done.
12. Get to know your team’s strengths and motivations
Your team is made up of people, not robots. What do the people in your team want? What skill sets do they have? What are they good at? What would they like to improve at?
Finding out the answers to questions like these can have multiple benefits:
- Build trust and rapport
- Boost productivity
- Boost sense of project ownership
Of course, your support and guidance doesn’t end with finding out the answers to such questions. Communication is key. Once you know, you are in a better place to support their activities and increase their responsibility, productivity and work satisfaction.
13. Put people and project ahead of process
Earlier, we specified that documentation and PM tools are your asset. And they are. But, as a new project manager, you might get more bogged down in process and documentation than is truly necessary. You’re still learning about your new environment’s workflow and working methods. Give yourself and your team a break by keeping things streamlined. Use transparency and communication to plan ahead, minimise risks and effectively boost workflow.
14. Ask open-ended follow-up questions
Unless ‘yes’ or ‘no’ is the answer you’re looking for, try not to ask questions that can be answered with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’. As a new project manager, you’re looking for more information than that.
If someone offers an insight, suggestion or information, aim to follow up with open-ended questions that tell you more. Can they describe a past situation where their proposed idea was implemented? Were there any steps taken to make it more successful, speedily delivered, or within budget?
With the right questions – and more of them – you can substantially expand your understanding.
15. Don’t fake it – do your best until you make it
There’s no point in massaging how much experience you have at project management. Be authentic and have integrity. Remember that you were called in to do this project management because the organisation saw abilities in you that matched the task at hand.
Use this new project management opportunity as a chance to progress. Learn from any mistakes. Ask questions and keep communication lines open. Build trust and network with those around you. Lead by example and show you’re willing to work hard. Document the project so that everyone can see how things are going. Create a structured process that’s genuinely useful to the project and team, but be willing to be flexible.
Don’t be arrogant. Do know your worth.
This isn’t an academic situation. This is real life, and remember that, as a new project manager, you are part of a team. This is a rewarding challenge, and one you don’t have to deal with alone.