How to be a Popular Project Manager

Art Petty writes an interesting post about project managers not being liked by anyone. I quite agree with him. I believe that project manager’s lack of popularity is their occupational hazard. Project managers have a tough job on their hands. They have the responsibility without always having full authority, whether it is the SME, or other members of the virtual team who report to their functional mangers. At the end of the day if the project fails, overruns or is delayed, it is the project manager who has to take the flak first. That is the nature of the role and the earlier project mangers realize it, lesser the heartburn they might go through.

So what how can a project manager succeed in this situation? Here are some things I have seen successful project managers do.

Respect the expert. I have seen successful project managers recognizing the expertise the experts bring to the table and giving them due credit. This also includes recognizing the gaps in their own knowledge and skills.

Lead. Don’t boss around. Project managers are in charge of the project but they aren’t necessarily the “boss”. Successful project managers lead the project and the team without attempting to display their authority or their position.

Communicate. Share the goal of the project with everyone and keep them informed. Keep everyone informed of not just the respective assigned tasks but the progress of the overall project. Share and celebrate successes as a team. Share the concerns and risks and seek support. I have seen many managers sharing only the assigned tasks with the respective team members completely under utilizing the team’s potential and not getting the required buy in and support for them when it is needed the most.

Listen. Listen to what team members are suggesting, listen to their concerns, listen to what makes them enjoy what they are doing and what turns them off. And then do something about it.

Empathize. Specially required when you have many team members who might be junior to the project manager in experience, position and designation.

Learn. Most successful project managers know the project/product they are managing. This does not mean they can do all the tasks in the project, or are experts in all skills. However they do appreciate what it takes to do the tasks and can contribute by sharing their insights and ideas. Assuming that as a project manager your only responsibility is to create a project plan / schedule and then following up with team to tick off completed tasks or updating the plan is a sure way to undermine your chances of success. Successful project managers attempt to learn about the project tasks and contribute to the end product.