You don’t need to be a “Project Lion” to be an effective PM

By - 22 Jan 2015

Lion roaring, with disco ball in the background

It’s known that the lion is the “king of the jungle.” While they don’t actually live in the jungle, lions gain the respect of all animals due to their sheer strength and raw power. They walk tall and proud, knowing that they can do no wrong in the face of almost any situation. If you think about the lion as he relates to the rest of the animals in jungle, it sure seems like he has a big ego and doesn’t care much about anyone else. He gets all of the respect and the glory, and he’d never, ever let someone else take it. (Though, a hyena may try. But if they do, they’re up for a serious fight.)

Every project has a lion: the person who produces great work, makes strong decisions, and commands the respect of the team. Depending on the team, that person could be the project manager, but I’ve found that in most cases it isn’t. The reason being is that most good project managers excel at putting their egos aside for the greater good of the team , the client, and the project. But in a competitive work world, it can be tough to suppress that ego! So how do you drop the ego and do what’s right, not only for the project, but for you?

Be a natural

The fact is, showing a big ego and touting accomplishments won’t always bring a positive reaction. A bloated ego can be a huge turn off, not only in the workplace, but also socially. After all, who wants to work with someone who thinks their work is undeniably better than someone else’s? Work in many organizations has evolved into collaborative processes that rely on good communications and solid team work. You’ve got to drop that ego if you’re going to be a part of a team and work together to create something that everyone is proud of. Natural leaders typically emerge in these scenarios, but even then, a big ego—or a forceful opinion—doesn’t make someone the inherent leader. A solid work ethic, authenticity, kindness, and smart, actionable ideas characterize a good leader.

Project managers are arguably the most ego-free people on teams. In the ecosystem of a team making something, the person who is tracking schedules and budgets can certainly be seen as the least desirable. After all, most people would prefer to be involved in the more “shiny” things like design or marketing—the things with the most public visibility.

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The fact of the matter is that every project needs someone to handle the managerial aspects. The work involved is critical to the success of that shiny thing. When you look at it that way, it makes sense when you see the PM’s head growing; they control budgets, they schedule people, and they have the keys to crucial tracking applications. They know everything at all times. It’s a pretty big task. But still, being a good PM requires natural humility.

Bow to the king

The best thing a project manager can do is stay out of the way of a project—or team’s—success. As a PM, you can be a strong, positive voice for the team and show respect for their craft, while at the same time, bring to the table an undeniable mastery of your own craft by facilitating an amazing project.

Good project managers let their teams present great ideas, even if they had a part in coming up with them. They shine the spotlight on their team when they do a great job. They stand by and support the team when it doesn’t feel necessary (during website launches, project deliveries, etc.). PMs hold the keys to the project kingdom, but they don’t wear the crown.

Wear a cape

As humans, we crave the satisfaction of touting our successes. There’s always a bit of ego behind that, but it’s natural and there is a time and place for it. So, as the PM, you can find ways to show what you’re doing. Here are a few:

  • Communicate the wins. When you share the things your team has done well with your clients, company, and fellow team members, you will feel good. You know why? Because as the PM, you are a part of each and every move on your projects. You facilitate the wins.
  • Do your job well. If you stay on top of your project plans, budgets, resourcing plans, status reports, and project conversations and decisions, you’re doing it right. Remaining transparent and facilitating open and honest conversation is key to ensuring project success.  If you are in a good project setting, that work will speak for itself and will be recognized. Maybe it won’t happen with a team “shout out”, but it will likely be noted in your performance reviews.
  • Share your experiences. You may not know it, but if you’ve got work experience, you can become a mentor or a teacher to someone else. Something as simple as sharing your process for creating a project plan not only helps the other person enhance their skills, it will make you feel great.
  • Understand what’s important to your team and your industry. It’s easy to sit back and watch people make things. Don’t do that. Understand why decisions are made. Follow industry trends. Do your research. Having a solid understanding of the work your team is doing will not only help you to manage your projects better, it will make you feel invested in the project and give you the authority to have a strong voice on decisions being made on your projects.
  • Participate in your local community. Believe it or not, there is a lot going on around you. PMs in the traditional and digital spaces have organizations and conferences to turn to. Resource Guru has been kind enough to support these endeavors, like the Digital PM Summit and the Oxford Digital PM Meetup, among others. If you do your research, you can find like-minded people near you and learn from them.

It’s a jungle out there

Projects and roles can get complicated, but they don’t have to be! It’s up to you to carve out your place on your team. If you want to be the “king of the jungle”, the power is yours. Just be careful how you use that power and be sure to keep your team and your clients’ best interests at heart…rather than eating them. But if you want to wear the cape rather than the crown, you’ll find your own success and gratification. No matter what you do, stand up for what is right, support great decisions, and know that your roar is as loud as you make it.

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Image source: Shutterstock

Brett Harned is a digital project management consultant, coach, and community advocate. He loves building processes and communication tactics that work not only for projects, but for the people involved in them. He’s also a prolific writer and speaker, and founded the Digital PM Summit, the flagship conference for digital project managers.