By: Veronica Thraen
There are many reasons why project management is a great career choice. And you can find a plethora of articles and blogs that explain the top skills required to be a successful PM.
While I’ve been a successful project manager for many years, and enjoy what I do, there’s long been a lack of understanding of what it really takes to succeed as a project manager. The result is that some enter the field expecting the job to be a “no-brainer” and then end up being discouraged. Given that, here are four aspects of the job that may test those considering a career as a PM — and how you can overcome them.
1) Adapting to change and ambiguity.
Being able to adjust to change and ambiguity will be a necessity in the field of project management. A PM who can remain calm, cool, and collected (not reactive) will find it much easier to handle the task at hand without negatively affecting the team or project.
During a project, for example, there might be shifting deadlines or priorities, changes in scope, team changes, budget changes, urgent executive requests, etc. In addition, there could be minimal information provided upfront on scope, budget, or customer requirements. It’s up to the PM to work with the teams to gather information, assess, and plan accordingly to mitigate any risks.
What to do: If you struggle with managing changes that come at you 100 mph and you really want to be a project manager, consider investing in learning opportunities to better become a better change manager.
2) Resolving conflicts
Facing conflict is inevitable in many circumstances and during a project lifecycle is no exception. Project managers lead teams that don’t directly report to them so it can be extra challenging when there are team disagreements, lack of motivation, or communication issues.
A PM must decide whether they can resolve the issue or if it needs to be escalated. So, good decision-making, leadership, and negotiation are crucial skills. The last thing a project manager wants to do is lose respect of the team because they are unable to control and/or resolve a situation.
What to do: If conflict resolution challenges you, consider one or more of the many conflict resolution training sessions offered. Incorporating role play with a mentor or colleague can help you think through how to successfully resolve conflicts and move the project forward.
3) Navigating workplace politics.
Workplace politics is another activity that a PM will need to navigate. Being a “politically savvy” project manager will be required to 1) Ensure there is a solid understanding of stakeholder needs and 2) Alleviate any risks or roadblocks caused by stakeholders with differing opinions and varied authority and influence over a project.
Projects can fail if there is a misunderstanding of stakeholder expectations. A successful PM actively listens and communicates throughout the project to build and maintain stakeholder relationships to ensure all success criteria are met.
What to do: Workplace politics challenge all of us from time to time. If this is an ongoing issue, getting to the root of your frustrations will help you navigate workplace politics with ease. For example, some employees become heavily invested in what happens at work and have difficulty separating themselves from the “drama.” If this is you, working as a freelance project manager can help you detach from the day-to-day politics in someone else’s workplace, enabling you to focus more on delivering a great client experience.
4) Meeting facilitation.
This seems like a basic function of a project manager’s job, but you’d be surprised on the many challenges a PM can face while facilitating a meeting. Effective facilitation is truly an art form, particularly with a large audience that is both co-located and distributed.
A PM must tactfully address attendees who are continually late, not paying attention/participating, or hijacking their meeting. They must also ensure that there’s a valid meeting objective, the meeting is productive, and it starts/ends on time. Having a meeting just for meeting’s sake takes away the team’s valuable time to work on tasks.
What to do: Learning how to effectively facilitate meetings is the subject of many seminars and training opportunities. And you can always role play difficult situations that may come up in meetings with a mentor or other trusted advisor to learn how to better handle them to achieve your goals.
As a PM, I’ve had to step outside my comfort zone many times to advance my career in project management. Not everyone is comfortable presenting to large groups or dealing with conflict. The Project Management Institute offers many opportunities for learning and advancing your skills, including through their certification courses. They also offer relevant publications to add to your knowledge base, as well as informal courses to gain or improve your skills and stay up to date.
If you are determined to persevere, you’ll find that there are so many rewarding aspects of project management that far outweigh any challenges you may face along the way. Good luck!
Veronica Thraen is the Owner and Principal Consultant at Maven Project Management, a technology project management consulting firm in Phoenix, Arizona that helps growing organizations put processes and tools in place to keep projects on track for long-term growth and success. Her leadership advice has been featured by Ellevate Network, The Huffington Post, and Forbes.