Life as a PM: Dealing with misaligned and hard to manage team members? Three tips on how to be an assertive team leader

Angeliki Koumani9 Sep 19

Having spent the last couple of months researching the ups and downs of working as a project manager, I can tell you that almost every day in the life of a project manager is different.

The main reason is the multifaceted nature of the job of a PM leading to a variety of daily challenges and obstacles that need to be solved on the spot.

After interviewing senior PMs and delivery managers, heads of PMOs, project and strategy directors in SMEs, here are a few things I learned about them.

PMs are Jacks of all trades

Being a PM means being 5 people in 1. Ultimately, the PM job is about persuasion, coordination, and control, so they can achieve the successful delivery of a project or of a portfolio of projects. They are simultaneously but not exclusively:

  1. Managers of a portfolio of projects that need to be on top of at every given moment.

  2. Leaders and coordinators of their project teams.

  3. Client engagement leads, responsible for keeping their clients happy at different stages of the project.

  4. Resourcing troubleshooters, especially in smaller companies where resources are scarce.

  5. Strategy and business managers, responsible for defining new opportunities along with other senior stakeholders.

PMs are Time Managers

One of the biggest challenges that PMs face daily is getting things delivered on time by a diverse set of stakeholders, either internal team members or clients, with whom they need to collaborate to ensure project success.

My interviewees have identified some extra factors that are contributing to the added stress of having to hit KPIs and targets within strict deadlines. Among those, the most prominent three are:

  • Misalignment between project managers and clients in regards to original project expectations and vision.

  • Communication challenges when it comes to updates on progress or lack of.

  • Aversion or fear of accepting responsibility for delays either from the client side or from the team side.

after 1 year as a Project Manager

Unidentified male after 1 year as a Project Manager

Additionally, a report carried by The Economist Intelligence Unit amongst 400 senior executives, managers, and junior staff, found that collaboration and relationship problems amongst teams are resulting in:

  • Delay or failure of a project (44%);

  • Poor mental health (52%);

  • Loss of confidence (31%).

What to do about it

If you recognize some of these pain points, here are some tips that could help you.

Tip #1: Empathise

Even though hard skills and degrees are the number one demand in job specs, emotional intelligence and soft skills are increasingly being recognised as integral skills of effective managers.

By practicing active listening and being open to hear people’s ideas and see their point of view, you become a leader who shows to care. There are more chances that you will get to be regarded as a trusted figure, and you will reduce the risk of people being afraid to come to you with blocks and delays or other types of problems that could hinder their performance.

There are many situations in our work life where we need to walk the extra mile, things could need extra attendance, or we will have to work overtime to make sure we stick to important timelines, the bottom line is that it feels better knowing that we are doing it for someone that cares and values us.

Tip #2: Cultivate Ownership

Nobody wants to be a task execution monkey. People, and especially the younger generation peers, want to feel that they are doing something important with their time. Project managers, you are time poor by nature, but it’s important to let your team see the bigger picture and how important their contribution is. Likewise, it’s crucial for your clients to be engaged and have a clear view of what’s going on so they would better understand future delays or changes.

Here are some ideas:

  • Include as many team members as you can in early requirement gathering workshops.

  • Organise creative workshops with your clients.

  • Share your project timelines with clients and team members, so they have visibility of what they need to achieve and see also how dependent you are on each other to make your project a success.

Tip #3: Set clear and measurable targets

Knowing where you are headed and what to do to get there is important, but that’s just half the job. Whatever you do, you need to make sure that your activities are trackable, meaning that you need to note somewhere the expected results and observe regularly how you stack up against them.

Metrics can exist in different forms depending on the project and what you want to achieve. For example, completion at a specific time might be the most important attribute at a given moment, but also quality of expected results, client satisfaction, and new leads generation could all be targets even if they are more qualitative.

It’s important to clearly indicate what’s expected from each stakeholder, but avoid stretching numbers or creating unrealistic expectations that could demotivate your team. Staying on top of things by comparing your original estimates with what’s actually happening and establishing team processes where you discuss progress is also a must to make sure you all on the same page.

Bottom line

Being an effective leader is a challenge especially when time and resources are scarce, however by practicing empathy, creating team rituals and setting clear expectations from everyone, you will get yourself on track to succeed.

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