Coaching Project Managers

In a PM context, Coaching is the practice of helping project manages to identify and articulate what their professional challenges, goals and aspirations are and subsequently assist them in achieving these goals through in-depth conversations.  

A typical starting point for a coaching conversation is to enquire about aspects that aren’t working as well for the project manager as they should. This could be in terms of missed deadlines, a disengaged team, unhappy stakeholders, a feeling of overwhelm or a lack of personal satisfaction and achievement. The role of the coach is to help address these issues, bring them to the surface and help the project manager resolve them once and for all.

But coaching is much more than addressing the project manager’s immediate problems and concerns. It also helps people to identify their medium to long term aspirations, put together an action plan and take steps that move them closer to their goal – whether it’s delivering their project on time, building better interpersonal relationships, getting a promotion, being better at leading and motivating the team, finding more joy and satisfaction in their work etc.

Coaching often creates aha-moments and unleashes energy as the project manager starts to feel empowered and in control of where they are going. The coach is the facilitator and the sounding board who ensures that the right questions are being asked and that situations and perceptions are being reframed so that they’re easier to work with.


The importance of questions:

In coaching we typically don’t spend hours justifying or analyzing why things are they way they are. We also refrain from giving too much advice and telling people what to do. Instead, we acknowledge the situation as it is and then ask how the project manager can use the situation to move one step forward. Questions play a key role in coaching. They can be very empowering and generally encourage people to find answers for themselves instead of being told what to do.

Some of the powerful questions we may ask when coaching project managers are:  

  • What is currently going well on the project and not so well?
  • What is standing in your way?
  • Which roadblocks do you need to remove so that you can start to add more value to the project and your client?
  • How much time do you spend resolving urgent issues and fire fighting, and how much time do you spend on strategic and proactive activities such as planning, risk mitigation, quality assurance, team leading etc.? What would it take to permanently put out some of the fires?
  • Who can you start to train and delegate to, so that you free up your time to focus on the activities that really matter to the success of your project?
  • On a scale from 1-10, how good is your knowledge of the subject matter and of your client’s business? How can you improve it?
  • Do you tend to be predominantly task focused or people focused? What are the consequences of this and how can you make sure you strike the right balance?
  • How good are your relationships with the project’s senior stakeholders? What can you do to improve these relationships and more regularly ask for your stakeholder’s feedback?
  • How can you better motivate and utilize the strengths of your team members? 
  • What keeps you awake at night? Which risks and issues could jeopardise the success of the project? What can you do about it?
  • What else could make the team work more effectively and ensure that you deliver a quality product to your customer?
  • What would make your job as a project manager more fulfilling?
  • Where do you see yourself heading? What step can you take that will gradually move you in the right direction?


What’s in it for me?

Project Manages can use coaching as a tool in many different contexts. First, you can coach and mentor junior project managers and help them grow and develop. Secondly you can choose to be coached yourself by engaging a professional coach or by asking a more senior colleague to mentor you.  Beware though, that when you ask someone to informally mentor you, they are unlikely to be professionally trained coaches. That means that they are more likely to giving subjective advice than a professional coach is.  A third way of using coaching is to get in the habit of asking yourself insightful questions and keeping an open mind. This type of “self-coaching” is especially useful in combination with a good coaching or leadership book that can help guide you.

So! What action are you willing to take? Which junior project mangers can benefit from your wisdom and guidance? Would you consider becoming their mentor? Or maybe you are considering taking this a step further and qualifying as a Coach. Why not? It would add another string to your bow. It would increase your self-awareness and improve your interpersonal and leadership skills. Lastly, you may be tempted to personally hire a coach. Go ahead and give it a try. It could be the best investment you ever make for your career!


Susanne Madsen is Program Director, leading project management coach and the author of The Project Management Coaching Workbook – Six Steps to Unleashing Your Potential.  Susanne has over 15 years experience in managing and rolling out large change programs of up to $30 million. She is a PRINCE2 and MSP Practitioner and a qualified Corporate and Executive coach. Susanne’s big passion is helping project managers get to the next level – and to help organisations set-up coaching and mentoring programmes to enable that. You can visit Susanne’s website on



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