A little respect
THERE'S a certain ethereal quality to respect. You tend to know it when you see it—or when you don't. For younger team members looking to make their mark in the world of project management, let's just say respect isn't always included in the compensation package. You have to command it. Here's how.
1 Do your work—and do it well.
“Meet your deadlines and do what you say you're going to do,” says Brenda Kallas, CAPM, project manager at Reed Business Information, Highlands Ranch, Colorado, USA.
Yes, it's ridiculously obvious, but proving you've got what it takes to get the job done can be just what up-and-comers need to snare the right kind of attention from the upper ranks.
“Management is looking for team members who will provide quality work, while staying within company budgets,” Ms. Kallas says.
2 Know your audience and adjust your communication style accordingly.
A constant barrage of instant messages and updates on Facebook might be the preferred communication style with friends and even some colleagues—but it's not for everyone. Communicating with your project leader and other high-level colleagues is not simply a matter of knowing what to say—but when and how to say it. And no training manual is going to outline the nuances of how to communicate effectively in every situation with every personality type. It's something you need to learn by careful observation and through trial and error.
|It's each team member's responsibility to determine when and how much to communicate with management. |
—BRENDA KALLAS, CAPM, REED BUSINESS INFORMATION, HIGHLANDS RANCH, COLORADO, USA
“Some managers are very hands-on and others are hands-off,” Ms. Kallas explains. “Some managers want a great deal of communication and others want only high-level communication. It's each team member's responsibility to determine when and how much to communicate with management, and whether that communication should be verbal or written.”
3 Point out errors—but with a strong dose of tact.
Mastering the fine art of communicating the basics to superiors can be difficult enough. But it can become a virtual minefield if you need to tell your project manager that he or she is wrong or has made a mistake.
Handled properly, spotting and correcting a problem in your project can earn you respect for your decision-making capabilities and sound judgment. Mishandled, it can derail your career plans.
Four years ago, when Mangesh Sawant, PMP, was a young team member, he faced that very scenario. “In one of my projects, all team members had tremendous respect for—and fear of—the project manager,” he recalls. “One day, we were discussing the pending deliverables. Our project manager had the list, which was prepared by the original project manager who had resigned and left before the project started. When we came to one of the deliverables, I noticed that it didn't sound right.”
OLDER AND WISER
Pairing with a mentor is a great way for young project team members to learn from more experienced members of the organization, but not everyone is going to be a good fit. Derek Morrison from Reed Business Information and Andreas Perez-Madsen from Maersk Drilling offer some tips for picking the right person.
Seek out someone who truly wants to help you.
Many people make the mistake of choosing a high-powered executive as a mentor without considering that person's willingness to guide a “newbie” through the organization.
Make sure the person you choose has the time.
Willingness is only half of the equation. Mentors must be able to carve out the necessary time in a schedule that's probably already jam-packed.
Find someone who will support—and challenge—you.
A good mentor won't simply tell you you're doing a good job or dictate how to handle projects or other business situations. He or she will guide you to come up with solutions on your own.
Ask for constructive feedback and honest advice.
You need someone who is going to be upfront about what you're doing wrong and how to improve. A veteran who has been around a while can also be a good source of information on getting the most out of your position within the company.
Mr. Sawant found himself in a predicament. What to do? Speak up and risk antagonizing his project manager, who hadn't noticed the problem himself, or wait to see if he would figure it out on his own? Mr. Sawant decided to gather all the facts before questioning his project manager.
A cross-check of the contract confirmed his suspicions. The deliverable wasn't in the contract. Rather than approach his manager with an accusation, Mr. Sawant acknowledged that, as a team member, and not a team leader, he might not be privy to all of the information.
“I asked whether we were deliberately giving this deliverable [to the client] as an extra or was it some informal commitment not in the contract,” says Mr. Sawant, who is now a project management office lead at NCR Corp. in Mumbai, India. “The message got through to the project manager. And, rather than antagonizing him for questioning his list, I had managed to bring out the point which saved a few hundred days of effort. In turn, I earned respect for knowledge of the contract and for speaking up.”
TIP Do your research. “When interviewing for a job, do exhaustive searches to get a feeling of what department you would like to work in and what areas of interest are appealing to you,” says Andreas Perez-Madsen, Maersk Drilling, Copenhagen, Denmark. “In the interview, be honest about your expectations and explain what you are enthusiastic about.”
4 Think big—maybe even a tiny bit too big.
“I let my managers know that I am ready for new responsibilities simply by telling them,” says Andreas Perez-Madsen, project engineer at Maersk Drilling in Copenhagen, Denmark and chairman of the International Project Management Association's Young Crew. “I prepare for meetings with my manager thoroughly and try to think in advance what duties I would like to do more of in the future and what I prefer not doing.”
Younger team members also shouldn't be afraid to tackle responsibilities that might seem just out of their range.
“When looking for exciting projects or tasks, choose those that are the most challenging,” Mr. Perez-Madsen advises.
But it's not always wise to ask for more challenging projects, a promotion or a raise without carefully gauging the circumstances.
Earning the respect of colleagues and stakeholders outside the organization can go a long way to advance a young team member's career, says Derek Morrison, Reed Business Information.
“I worked as a project manager at a small company and had built a good working relationship with a client by delivering repeated projects on time and paying close attention to detail and going the extra mile whenever required,” he explains.
Because of those established relationships, Mr. Morrison's client was quick to turn to him and his organization when it wanted to invest in new projects.
On one such project, Mr. Morrison says his role was redefined several times as the project went along due to the changing requirements of the job. He began to take on greater responsibilities, and his success on the project positioned him to take the next step in his career.
“At times, projects will not be going well and the reasons may be outside your sphere of influence,” says Derek Morrison, lead product manager, Reed Business Information, Sutton, England. “It's best to get a number of wins under your belt first before seeking greater opportunities. Whatever the situation, your request should not come as a surprise to senior management.”
5 Go ahead and brag a little.
You can meet your deadlines, beat the budget and leave your stakeholders smiling, but it won't mean a thing if no one is aware of your amazing feats.
Make sure your manager and other superiors are in the know by reporting back, formally or informally, on how you met your goals, what worked and even what didn't.
Your performance review can be a prime time for those discussions. But be prepared to back up any requests for more responsibility with facts about your past performance and a solid plan outlining the steps you intend to take to hit those milestones.
“Create your own personal roadmap that clearly identifies your career aspirations, show it to your line manager at the beginning of the year, and ask for input and advice on how to progress,” says Mr. Morrison.
Even if there are no current open positions in the direction you'd like to go, communicating your long-term (and short-term) goals can eventually pay off.
“Give managers a vision of where you see yourself in one year and five years, and that way, they will have you in mind when an opportunity arises,” says Mr. Perez-Madsen. At the same time, he advises younger team members to “be proactive and seek opportunities yourself.”
And soon enough, you just might make the jump up. PM
PM NETWORK MAY 2009 WWW.PMI.ORG