You may have started out your project management career as a project coordinator, or someone that helped out the project managers on staff. You loved working closely with more senior project managers and doing whatever they asked you to do. Your job consisted of getting status and updates from everyone, and to print, staple and distribute them at the weekly meetings for them to reference. It was a great experience, and you learned a lot of new things along the way.
Time passed and your responsibilities grew. You were still going around, collecting status updates and putting reports together, but now you were also putting simple project plans together, presenting in front of the group, and even coordinating work.
One day, as you were making copies and stapling reports together, someone passed by and asked, “Why are you doing that?” You told them it was your job. “Yeah, but can’t you find someone to put these reports together and get them out? I mean, your skills and talent could be put to a lot better use than just making copies.”
You had never really looked at your job any differently, but you began to pick up on the fact that other people were starting to view your role differently. You got comments like that from time to time and noticed that you were being given more respect on more occasions. What’s going on?
People’s perceptions of you were changing, even though you couldn’t see the changes yourself. It’s like children; if you are around kids every day, the changes they go through are so slow and gradual that they are next to impossible to notice. Conversely, when you see a child or teen that you haven’t seen for some time, you can’t believe how much they’ve grown and changed.
It’s the same with your professional growth. You don’t see incremental changes in yourself, but others that aren’t around you as often do. What causes their perceptions of you to change, and what are some of the signs that they are looking at you in a different light?
Why Perceptions Change
There are a number of reasons why people’s perception of you as a project manager changes over time. For example:
- Your Reputation Precedes You – The first thing that causes people to perceive you differently is your reputation, which is based upon what you’ve done and/or stands for. As you develop and grow, so does public opinion of you. There may have been an incredibly long grind of a project that you were assigned to manage; the hours it required were epic. You kept the team’s morale high by bringing in the foosball table for those after-hour or Saturday afternoon sprints. You made sure everyone was fed. You kept everyone organized through potentially dark times.The project was ultimately delivered on time and everyone went back to their normal schedules, but people will still talk. They will remember and talk about what you did for the team during that time; over time, goodwill becomes attached to your name.You also build a reputation based upon things you stand for. Are you a stickler for quality? Are you militant about meeting dates? Do you do whatever it takes to keep the client happy? These character traits attach themselves to the lore that surrounds you and shapes people’s perception of you.
- You Have Authority – As you progress in your career, you will begin to pick up a certain amount of authority along the way. This authority may manifest itself in the ability to hire/fire people, make decisions about the direction that a project is going to take, or what types of technologies are going to be implemented within your company.Again, you may have a very different view of this authority than others do. You may not think it’s that big of a deal to make the decision to bring someone on board. Or, you may absolutely hate the process that is involved around escorting someone out the door. In either case, those around you will begin to view you differently when they know you have the ability to make these types of decisions.
- You Have Influence – A final factor that changes people’s perception of you is the amount of influence you gain in an organization over time. Influence can be even more powerful than authority. People have to follow you or comply with your decisions if you have authority; their jobs depend on it. Conversely, people choose to follow someone who has influence. That’s a much more powerful and long-lasting type of relationship than the kind that makes people feel as if they have to do something.Along with that, your access and ability to influence executives and other authorities within the company can also quickly change people’s perception of you.
Signs to Look For That Perception is Shifting
So now that we know some of the reasons why people’s perceptions may change, what are some of the signs? After all, they’re not going to come up to you and say they now think differently of you. Be on the lookout for the following:
- People Defer to You More – When you first started, you had to stand on top of a chair and wave your arms in order to be heard or to express your opinion. Now, when a topic is being discussed there’s a pause in the conversation where everyone looks in your direction to hear your opinion. Plus, chances are pretty high that whatever way your opinion is leaning that’s the way the group will go.
- People Let You Talk More – An extension of the deference given to you is that you’ll be able to hear yourself speak and verbalize your thoughts. In your early days, you may start a thought but become quickly interrupted by someone else who feels that what they have to say is more important. That type of behavior happens less and less as people begin to give more weight to your words. Why? Because the reputation that precedes you is one of greater authority and influence…
- People Anticipate Your Needs – You’ll begin to hear phrases or one-liners along the lines of, “I did it this way because I figured that’s what you would have wanted.” People will anticipate and consider your needs more. This is not only out of respect for you but also for the fact that they know it will help things run more smoothly for everyone on the project.
These are just a couple of things you can be on the lookout for. You may have an entirely different experience as you grow and progress in your project management career, if, for example, you are thrown into a role above your experience, or rise quickly in a small company. For most project managers, though, the biggest thing to watch for over time is how people are treating you differently. This is a good thing. It means that because of your actions and performance, people think of you as more of a leader. It’s up to you to now make sure that your actions are aligned with their expectations!