The first time i held my business cards with a shining blue title “project manager” i grew ten inches higher. I thought of myself as of a special someone, anticipating doors opening, VIP hands shaken, sitting in steering committees next to the almighty, spot light at press conferences, national pod cast, receptions and alike.
Some of my anticipations became a reality very soon. To brutal though. suddenly, people who would not notice me wanted to become my best friends. Journalists were constantly calling and demanding explanations. Counterparts, which before were nice to work with, became unreasonably demanding. My attempts to explain rules and procedures of the house were met with “You are one of us. Why cannot you do it for us?”.
I needed that a bit too brutal perhaps wake up call years ago. At least part of it, to go easy on myself. It made me understand that project management is not stellar. It is very much a-down-to-earth job, at least to me. To be fair, I know a couple of people who have the words “project manager” in their job description and are successfully both stellar and down to earth. I still have to master it up to this. I just do not know if I need to.
Anyway, whatever strategy you choose as best for your project, i learned that it is important to pay attention to two key issues.
First, expectations management, an issue not much talked about in projects circles. It will help prevent counterparts disbelief that you cannot do what they want you to. And some of them can get pretty creative. Proper expectation management will help prevent costs (including reputational) and eventual scope creep risks to the project.
Secondly, learning the appropriate communication tools and lines is as important as the first one. It helps dealing with the avalanche of questions, inquiries and interaction you are exposed to. Get help from the PR person/office/guidelines. It will make you proactive as opposed to reactive, saving your time and energy for the project.
There could be cases when you’ll need to be stellar. And there are different kinds and shades of stellar. Let me explain. Not so long ago, we organised an important event and because the spirits involved had a tendency to go high, we asked the partner to bring nr 1 in the organisation. It is a minister. He came. Accompanied. By a deputy minister. In the mid of the event, the minister abruptly stood up and left the room. His deputy was surprised. The audience expected me to take the mike. The key note speakers we brought for the event asked me to. “I am only a project manager”, I responded. Two seconds later, the deputy minister took the floor as a moderator. ‘How did you do it?”, asked one of the speakers.
The answer is simple. It was only an ABC:
A. quick risk analysis,
B. the closest available mitigation measure i had and
C. a bit of coordination.
As i watched the minister raising from his seat, without any exchange with his deputy, i wrote a tiny paper note to nr.2 in our organisation, who sat next to the deputy minister, to ask the latter to take over moderation. It was acting behind the scene. With the stellars.
“Ya, you are only a project manager”, is a phrase i get now every time i meet the speakers from that event. And i am fine with it.
* drawing by Sofia