What makes a project manager an outstanding one? What makes any manager a successful one? Is it skill, patience, or hard work? Is it all three? Is it none?
These are questions that you’re probably asking yourself if you landed on this article. To be fair, these are the questions that most managers looking to improve themselves have in their minds and mull over for long periods at a time to discover that they don’t know the answer to them. Being a project manager is no easy task, and because of its importance in a company, it is one of those roles that require the right person for the job. If a project manager doesn’t have that special combination of skills and knowledge, projects will encounter problem after problem, and teams will become more and more impatient and frustrated with their own work.
The truth is that there is no magic ingredient that makes a project manager great. Instead, you’ll find that different projects need different traits from managers, and one must adapt to those requirements. Probably the best quality a project manager can have, though, is to be willing to improve and change. So, if you’re here because you’d like to know how to do just that, you’re already on the right track.
What you’ll find below is a mix of personal traits you should improve or work on to become a better project manager and tools or techniques to use with your team or on your projects to get better results. The list can help anyone who wants to learn more about being the best project manager they can be, from someone just starting out in the field to someone with years of experience looking to get out of some old ways.
What is a project manager?
If you landed here wanting to become a project manager, maybe the best thing to know is what a project manager is and what sort of tasks and responsibilities one has, so you can make an informed decision.
First and foremost, a project manager is someone who is in charge of projects with duties such as budgeting or creating a timeline of the project; anything that falls under the management of the project is their responsibility. That includes the people in a team and their relationships. A project manager needs skills in an array of fields and has to be prepared for anything that could come up. This role involves a lot of responsibility and leadership skills, so before becoming a better project manager, make sure this is the right path for you.
Tips to Become a Better Project Manager
If you’re here because you are, indeed, a project manager or you want to ace your first job as a project manager, then it can never hurt to become a better version of what you currently are. The tips below will help you with that.
- Start from within
This tip is not related to the company, even though that might also be relevant. But this one is referring to yourself. Sit down and reflect on what things you are currently doing as a project manager and how you could improve them. Look at this like it’s one of your projects and dissect it little by little until you encounter problems, then move on to potential changes to solve those problems.
Starting with yourself shows a great leadership belief that if you want to help others, you start within yourself first. Imagine the safety rule of putting on your oxygen mask first, then moving onto your children. The road to becoming better starts with you only.
- Gain specialist knowledge
You may have all the skills you need to do the job, but what happens if you want to take on a more specialized job role, for instance, in the engineering world? It can help if you have specialist knowledge in that area to make the job effortless. Look at taking a master of engineering management program to further enhance your knowledge. You can better learn how to manage budgets and people and be able to make key decisions that are specific to this industry. Plus, this ensures you have the right qualifications and mindset for the role. Even if you decide to move out of this industry in time to come, you will have advanced knowledge compared to other project managers, and that can be incredibly useful. Always see learning opportunities as a way to better your career and life.
- Communication is key
Whether you’re communicating about a project or about wanting to improve your skills, communication is key to a more successful career. Don’t be afraid to communicate with colleagues and your team. In fact, be the opposite. Share your concerns and ask around for feedback. If you feel like you’re lacking somewhere, your team will most likely easily point out where the problems are. They interact with you often, so they’re the best people to get feedback from.
This will not only make them trust you more because you’re willing to be honest and show that you want to become better, but it also gives you a great insight into what areas to work on. Some of them you might have not even considered before!
- Don’t overdo it; just delegate
It’s easy to want to be in control of every project and move within that project. You probably feel responsible for it and its success, so you tend to do everything yourself, or you micromanage your team members. This doesn’t help you or them.
Delegate tasks properly and let your team accomplish those tasks themselves. You have a lot more to do than to spend your precious time making sure your team has fully understood what they have to do. With time, you’ll learn to trust them (and them you), and you’ll know who’s the best at what, so you can delegate even better.
- Ask questions, and then some more
You shouldn’t micromanage, but you should absolutely make sure everyone is clear about what they should be doing and that you understand what is going on at all times in a project. Don’t be afraid to over-explain yourself or to ask questions and then some more because, in the end, it’s better to hear things two or three times than to forget what you were supposed to do and later have to ask for clarification again.
This will ensure that everyone knows what it’s being expected of them, and the projects tend to go smoother and on time.
- Meet your team frequently
The questions mentioned above should come up at the frequent meetings you’re holding. Meetings are the best place to decide on the action plan, but also to delegate tasks and clarify anything you or your team needs to know.
By meeting frequently, you’ll also be making sure that the project is on time and that the budget hasn’t been gone over. Furthermore, you can connect with your team and see if everyone is working well together and no problems have arisen.
Weekly meetings should be the minimum you schedule with your team; depending on the scale of the project and the size of your team, they could be as frequent as daily.
- Take notes of everything
You won’t remember everything. Even if your memory is impeccable, no one can store the amount of information that comes your way as a project manager. Writing it down ensures you can find it whenever necessary.
The problem with storing information is that you don’t want a messy desk or office with thousands of post-its and loose sheets of paper covering every surface, so the best solution for a busy, successful project manager is to take notes digitally. There are programs online that you can easily create notes and then find them by just typing one or two words you remember having used. This will take the pressure off of having to keep everything organized, and you will find anything you want much easier and quicker.
- Listen Actively
Just like the very first tip, this one applies only to you. Listen and pay attention to what’s being said. It may sound logical, but many PMs fail to do so, therefore leading to failure and repetitive questions that don’t help anyone. These are not the same type of questions or format mentioned before; these are the ones you need to keep asking because you’re failing to listen to your team actively.
Listening to stakeholders, product owners, and clients is key to getting a sense of how to communicate with them and to get the best response for them individually.
- Create Templates
Templates will help you and your team to keep track of every single step of the project without the need for constant checking up. They can all contribute to it, change it and add to it so that everyone knows at what phase the project is. Templates are crucial to have from the beginning of the project as they’ll make communication smoother, and you, as the project manager, can keep track of where the project should be, and if something’s preventing that, you can adjust easily accordingly.
By creating templates, you’ll also avoid making basic mistakes that you would have made had you not had the template in the first place. This also applies to your team, obviously.
- Fix problems early on
By having a clear structure and organization system between your team, you will spot problems easily and should fix them early on. If everyone is clear on what the project entails, what tasks need to be completed and, by using templates, prevent silly mistakes, then you can direct your focus onto problems that could disrupt the project.
Lean management works with this and involves techniques that could make your work a lot easier for everyone involved. If you’re not familiar with lean management, try to learn more about so you can apply it to your next project.
- Make time for your team
Build relationships with your team outside of work. Plan team-building workshops or activities that get everyone involved and having fun. Being a team is about trust in each other’s skillset, hard work, and honesty. By bringing everyone outside the office, you’ll be making memories for everyone participating.
Making time for your team, and showing them gratitude, is essential to making projects successful. It’s definitely one of the most important things as a project manager, and you will become better by doing so.
- Manage time efficiently
Don’t overestimate yourself or your team, but manage time in a smart, realistic way. Set goals and mini-goals for each member of the team, and keep track of what’s being accomplished or not. This will help you foresee if a project may be at risk of not being done on time.
Making realistic goals will also help your team to have the confidence that they can accomplish them together. Discuss this in your first project meeting and decide together how long each step or task should take. By bringing them into the time management section, you can establish appropriate timelines, and they will have no excuse to not respect them either.
- Be a Leader!
Show your team you’re there to support them in any way they need. They’ll want guidance and structure from you, and you need to be there for them with those skills that make you a great PM and a great leader. Moreover, actually, be ready to roll your sleeves and help out whenever necessary. An involved manager is a better one. You should know the project inside out; you have the decision-making skills the role requires, so who better than you to jump in and help a teammate to complete a task if something is falling behind.
Lead by example; show them how to do it yourself.
If you follow some or all of the tips mentioned, you will be a better project manager, no doubt! Your willingness to learn and improve yourself launches you halfway there, and it will take no time until these changes will make a huge impact on the way you communicate and deal with your team, but also in your completion of projects.
With time, you’ll gather insight into what works and what doesn’t with your team and projects, and the confidence you’ll gain through trying something new will transfer into other skills as well. Don’t be afraid to test things out. If they don’t work out for you, just move on and try something else. Remember that the best tip is to always be prepared to adapt and grow. Implement these in your career, and you’ll find yourself with more time and fewer concerns.