I was recently having coffee with an old colleague who was exploring moving from engineering into project management. The main question she asked was a common one that I get from people considering changing roles: Is project management right for me?
I have no regrets spending a good portion of my career as a project manager. If anything, it was my sandbox to explore different organizations, to understand how businesses operate and build relationships with people around the world.
I was fortunate to grow in my project manager role throughout several Fortune 100 companies and I learned from some of the best in the business. I had opportunities to lead global change management initiatives where I established processes and implemented tools optimized to support specific business workflows. My experiences leading teams & projects across Sales, Marketing, Analytics and Engineering have been invaluable.
So after all that, what advice do I have for those aspiring to make a move into project management?
1. Have the ability to lead without authority.
As a project manager, there are very few instances where you have a team reporting directly into you. So how are you suppose to lead a team to delivering on their promises? Leading in project management is not about hierarchy, its about taking the team from their location to the final destination. You lead by offering support, inspiration, enthusiasm and transparency while maintaining trust.
2. Make the best out of every situation.
Project managers are problem solvers at heart. Having a ‘can do’ attitude is incredibly contagious and if consistent, your team will soon tackle problems with a more positive approach. There will be times when the team is exhausted, overwhelmed and overworked and it will be up to you, the project manager, to rally everyone to the finish line.
3. Be comfortable with ambiguity.
Project managers fall in the category of ‘generalists.’ You aren’t necessarily the technical or subject matter expert of a specific area but you are the glue that brings it all together. Successful project managers are never afraid to ask questions and must have confidence in themselves because they will often be the non-expert in the room .
4. Communicate effectively and often.
According to Project Management Institute, it’s been estimated that project managers spend 90% of their time on communication related activities. (If you are cringing at that statistic, project management might not be for you.)
Project managers can influence the success of projects with effective and clear communication. Great communication in a project will go unnoticed, poor communication, on the other hand, will be the center of attention should it fall apart.
5. Celebrate milestones.
Every project has major milestones that are worth celebrating. It’s important to take time to recognize your team and reflect on accomplishments. As a QA developer, I remember people proactively avoiding project managers because the conversations would always be about “Did you finish…?” or “What is the status of…?”
I knew going into my role as a project manager that I didn’t want to be that person.
A random but applicable example: I used to dread the idea of making my bed in the morning. It felt like such a waste of time… that was until someone shared this with me:
“If you make your bed every morning, you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another.” – From Naval Admiral William McRaven’s commencement speech
Imagine if your team was able to see you give attention to small accomplishments just as much as you do to those missed milestones.
Ro (Rougeyar) Parry is a Senior Digital Marketing and Customer Experience Manager at Apple. She’s a data driven, tech-savvy, marketing leader passionate about building unique out-of-the-box campaigns that optimize experiences throughout the customer journey.
Ellevate Network is a global women’s network: the essential resource for professional women who create, inspire and lead. Together, we #InvestInWomen.