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How to be a better project manager

How to Be a Better Project Manager (or just run better projects)

by | Apr 25, 2022 | By Karin Hurt and David Dye |

Don’t let these common project management mistakes
derail your influence.

Every week we talk with deeply committed, human-centered project managers frustrated with their lack of influence. They yearn to be a better project manager, but something’s not quite clicking.

They care deeply. They’re working really hard and way too long. They’re tenacious and scrappy, paying attention to every detail. And yet, somehow they don’t have the influence they need to make a bigger impact.

If you’re looking to be a better project manager, or to help grow the project leaders on your team, consider if you’re falling into any of these traps—these common mistakes that project managers make.

Avoid These Five Common Mistakes Project Managers Make

Let’s start with the big one: unbridled tenacity.

1. Showing Up With Unbridled Tenacity

You can’t be a great project manager without a bit of well-organized tenacity. After all, your job is to ensure this project succeeds. Tenacity is a powerful leadership skill.

And, when taken too far, tenacity will diminish your influence and tank your credibility.

We’ve seen too many project managers’ careers stall because they pushed too hard for their deliverables, without considering the bigger strategic priorities. The best project managers have mastered the art of strategic tenacity. They know exactly when to turn up the burners and sound the alarms—and when to back off the gas.

To be a better project manager, ask yourself: How can I ensure this project succeeds AND be supportive and respectful of people’s competing priorities?

2. Hiding Behind Your Sponsor

Your credibility is directly correlated to YOUR influence.  YES, keep your project sponsor informed and engaged. Listen deeply and get all the advice you can. Ask them to come to your project kickoff and advocate for what you need at the senior level. AND never forget that the minute you have to start dropping names to get work done, your credibility suffers (see also “How Your Great Boss Might Be Hurting Your Career).”

To be a better project manager ask yourself: What relationships must I nurture to build more trust and influence?

Before you escalate, as yourself, “How can I dig deeper to understand the pushback I’m getting? How can I build deeper cross-functional peer relationships at my level?

3. Dodging the Obvious Questions (with a well-articulated, concise answer)

Has this ever happened to you? You’re leading a project and you’re all over the details  You’ve got pivot tables for your pivot tables.

There isn’t a question you can’t answer—given enough time and access to the right spreadsheet. But here’s where we see so many hard-working, well-meaning project managers get into trouble. They get lost in the data and find it hard to articulate answers to the obvious questions.

  • Are we on track?
  • What support do you need?
  • What could potentially derail our timeline?
  • How does this compare to our performance last year?
  • Who else could benefit from what you are building?
  • How does this tie into our merger integration work?

Be sure you’re prepared to answer the big picture questions in any hallway conversation that may arise.

To be a better project manager ask yourself: Is this project on schedule? Do we need anything? Is this project still relevant given (insert the big strategic change that just happened here_______)?

4. Spinning the Truth

“Well, he talks a good game,” is one of the phrases most likely to come before the word “but.” Yes, you’ve got to be able to tell a great story—just be sure that it’s true. One of the best ways to gain credibility as a PM is to be a highly-articulate truth-teller.

To be a better project manager, ask yourself: Am I able to clearly articulate the true story, including vulnerabilities and mistakes?

5. Avoiding Tough Conversations

If the project were easy, you wouldn’t need a project manager. The best project managers know how to hold accountability conversations early and often. If this is tough for you, try our I.N.S.P.I.R.E. model that we shared in PM Network Magazine.

To be a better project manager, ask yourself: Am I willing and able to put the needs of the project ahead of my own discomfort? Do I have the skills to hold people accountable in a way that strengthens both results and preserves the relationship?

If any of these five mistakes sound familiar, we encourage you to take a moment and try one new approach as you continue your journey to becoming an even better project manager.

PMI organizations booked with Lets Grow Leaders

Additional Resources to Help You Be a Better Project Manager

Leadership Skills: 6 Competencies You Can’t Lead Without

Resourcefulness Matters: How to Teach Your Team to Be More Resourceful

The Biggest Mistakes Even the Best Project Managers Make

Your turn. What would you add? What’s your best advice to help someone become a better project manager?

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Karin Hurt and David Dye

Karin Hurt and David Dye help human-centered leaders find clarity in uncertainty, drive innovation, and achieve breakthrough results. As CEO and President of Let’s Grow Leaders, they are known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. Karin and David are the award-winning authors of five books including, Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul A former Verizon Wireless executive, Karin was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. David Dye is a former executive and elected official. Karin and David are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells – building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.

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