6 Ways to Stay Razor Sharp as a Project Manager

Project management is a tough job that can take a toll on practitioners. The daily wear and tear on a project manager can dull us professionally, which transfers over to our teams and projects. The good news is that there are ways to sharpen someone whose shine has worn off. The following article provides some insight on how to maintain a razor-sharp edge and stay effective as a project manager.

Have you ever tried to cut something with a dull knife? It’s no fun. It either takes a lot longer than it needs to take, or leaves a terrible mess behind. A knife becomes dull with constant use. Once a blade is sharpened, a task is so much easier—effortlessly slicing through whatever it is designed to cut.

Believe it or not, the same thing can happen to you as a project manager. You may find yourself so busy that you become a bit dull. We’re not talking about your personality, as we’re sure that remains witty and engaging at all times. Rather, your razor-sharp effectiveness as a project manager is what diminishes.

Project after project, issue after issue, escalation after escalation, and many times disappointment after disappointment can all begin to take their toll on a project manager.  You may be going through the motions or phoning in what you should be as a project manager, but the fire in your eyes and enthusiasm to make a change may have warned. If you recognize this in yourself, others around you are sure to have noticed it as well. You’re getting worn down.

What happens when you become dull? It takes longer to get things done and you can start leaving a terrible mess behind. Apathy may even creep into your psyche to the point you just don’t even care that much about the projects you are managing. This is a terrible and dangerous place to be as a project manager.

Sure, you can hide incremental ineffectiveness for a period of time, but it will eventually catch up with you. There’s no room for procrastination or half-heartedness in any organization. It will appear that others around you are speeding up, but that’s actually not the case. They’re operating at the same speed they have always operated—you’re just slowing down.

6 Ways to Stay Razor Sharp as a Project Manager

6 Ways to Stay Razor Sharp as a Project Manager

The good news is that you can regain your effectiveness as a project manager with a few simple steps.  The even better news is that if you catch your impending dullness soon enough, no one will even notice that you began to lose your edge. Try one or all of the following…

Six Best Practices to Get Back in the Project Management Game

#1. Find a Mentor – A mentor is a great place to start to get you sharpened up as a project manager. Many organizations offer mentoring services free of charge. You can start with your local chapter of PMI to find a mentor that may be able to work with you.There may be wizened resources within your own company, but that’s really not the best course to take.

You want to be able to speak candidly and openly about the problems and experiences that are causing your project management skills to dull. These concerns often include your boss, your peers, or your own negative attitude. You need to be able to implicitly trust a mentor and open up without being concerned with downstream repercussions. An external mentor is also able to offer new solutions to old problems.

#2. Join a Professional Association – Membership in a professional association is designed to reinvigorate the project manager by providing peer and expert-level support. I’ll mention PMI since they are the most well known, but there are many associations to choose from.

I clearly remember attending my first PMI meeting many years ago. As I entered the two huge doors that led into the conference room, it was as if a light shone down from above as a sign that it was where I was meant to be.

Hundreds of people in that room had the exact same problems and concerns as me. They had been there, done that.

I was able to talk to them about the problems I was facing and they were able to give me advice and insight on how to handle it effectively. I was able to provide them with insight and advice on issues I’ve already been through. And, what’s this? Will they serve dinner while we can listen to and question an expert on a project management topic? I’m hooked. You will be too if you have the project management doldrums.

#3. Attend Courses and Workshops – A third way to stay engaged and sharp as a project manager is to attend courses and workshops that you find of interest. Topics could range from a troublesome issue you just experienced on your last project to something that you are merely curious about.

The beauty of courses and workshops is that they come in all different shapes and sizes. They can cost nothing, or up to thousands of dollars. They can be taken during lunch hours, work hours, after hours, and even on the weekends. They can be online, real time, or offline. Immerse yourself in what interests you and you’ll notice a sharper edge in no time at all.

#4. Take Your Projects Off Auto-Pilot – If you’ve been doing the same types of projects for years, you may have become such an expert at executing project plans that it may be routine for you. You’ve achieved such a level of project management expertise that you can put it on auto-pilot and the project almost completes itself.

While this is a great place to be, it can also hide opportunities for improvement that could make things a bit more exciting.

Every now and then, take your projects off of auto-pilot by getting very engaged in the project details. Ask yourself if there are better or different ways something could be done. Analyze what you are learning from this experience and how could this be applied across other projects you manage. Looking at projects in an entirely new light or taking them down a different path is sure to bring back some excitement to your position.

#5. Ask People for Feedback – An especially effective way of staying sharp is to ask people for feedback on your performance. Start with a few select, trusted people. Let them know that, in the spirit of professional development, you would like to set up a reciprocal feedback loop. You want to know if they see something they believe you could improve upon, and you can do the same favor for them. This opens the door for conversations in a trusted and safe environment that can only serve you well in the future.

What if you receive criticism or negative feedback from unsolicited parties? Our first inclination is to take offense when someone lets us know we could have done something different or better. Resist that urge. Rather, thank them for bringing it to your attention.

Don’t get defensive and justify the reasons why you did or not do something. Reflect on what they had to say and then apply their feedback where appropriate. You can always learn from what others say, even if the only thing you learned is how NOT to give feedback to someone else.

#6. Read Constantly – Always have one to three books about project management going on at the same time. You may have one going on at home, one stashed away at the office, and maybe even one in your car. This constant onslaught of new ideas, opinions, processes, procedures, and other relevant information about project management will always keep your creative juices flowing.

Find a handful of blogs you really like and keep up with them, but do your research before you sign up. Keeping up with blogs takes time and you want to make sure you are receiving the full value from investing your time. It’s best when you take it to the next level and comment on posts, ask the author questions and engage with others who have left comments.

Applying these six best practices will quickly turn you into a razor-sharp and ready project manager. Your project team will notice the difference and provide you with the level of results commensurate with your level of sharpness.

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