Project Management Institute

Learn To Let Go

My Career Took Off Once I Stopped Making Other People's Decisions


My career took off once I stopped making other people's decisions.

By Jesse Fewell, CST, PMI-ACP, PMP, contributing editor

Confession time: I was fired from my first project manager position. But that crushing moment yielded my deepest insight into what would become a true calling. Here are the sordid details and learnings, so you can benefit without paying the same price.


After a decade working as a software engineer, I wanted to have a broader impact. Taking the helm of a new critical operations upgrade seemed like a natural step to making that happen.

Unfortunately, I approached the new role the same way most project managers with technical backgrounds would: document everything, memorize as much as possible and distribute notes to everyone. One month later, I was no longer the project manager. What happened?

My engineering background led me to believe knowledge conquers all. So my impulse was to save the day from sponsors, stakeholders and senior leaders who were undermining the project. When team members made mistakes, I efficiently corrected those mistakes instead of escalating the underlying talent issue. When sponsors failed to show at key meetings, I moved things forward with my best guess at their priorities instead of forcing a conversation. In my pursuit to stay on top of things, I forgot to involve the very people needed to do those things.

As an agile practitioner, I should have known better about the value of delegation and collaboration. It was about a year later, on my next project, when the aha! moment arrived: My job as a project manager is not to make decisions—it is to get decisions made by all the people who should be making them.


In What Got You Here Won't Get You There, Marshall Goldsmith writes, “Successful people become great leaders when they learn to shift the focus from themselves to others.” Too often, project managers default to the technical work they've done in the past. Having been recognized for the work we've done, we aspire to prevent poor choices and silly mistakes. But it turns out organizations don't value doers nearly as much as they value movers. A strong leader is one who is able to get others to do what they should be doing themselves.

Learn to let go of the decisions you think you can make faster. Facilitating the right people to take ownership of the right issues is not only better for the project. It's better for your career. PM

img Jesse Fewell, CST, PMI-ACP, PMP, has served on the core team of the Agile Practice Guide and the Steering Committee for the PMI-ACP® certification. He can be reached at [email protected].
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