Skillsoft Blog

The “model” project manager

We’re pleased to bring you a guest post from Susan Tuttle, a professional consultant with over 20 years experience in project and change management and author of Illustrating PRINCE2®- Project Management in Real Terms.

By Susan Tuttle

Project Management – it’s not rocket science. We all know the basics. It’s a good idea to define what you want to do, then plan before you do it, next, do what it says on the plan and then review how it all went. Repeat, as necessary.

But life! Politics! Fires, usually not real ones, just the issues that arise that trigger you into ‘fire fighting mode,' seem to cause ‘common sense’ to go out the window.

How to stay on top of it all? I’m not sure there is one solution, but in my (humble) opinion, the answer lies with a bit of modelling.

By modelling I mean finding a role model. A good role model would be a person who is good at managing projects who also manages to lead a balanced life, play ethical politics and responds rather than reacts to issues. This person can be inside or outside your organisation, but needs to already be good at the things that you want to be good at. Sometimes this person can be your professional mentor, other times a friend or co-worker who happens to be good at project management.

The purpose of modelling is to learn by examining, imitating and practising another’s behaviours, beliefs and personal strategies for managing projects successfully. It is a way to bypass your own arduous life lessons or potential failures and go straight to someone who is already good at it. Then just do everything that they do!  This usually requires spending some amount of time with and around your chosen role model. The idea is to pay close attention to what they do and try to copy it. If their approach, which already works for them, also works for you, fantastic! Keep doing it. If it doesn’t, try modifying it a bit until it feels right.

Even better than just copying or modelling the behaviours of your chosen role model, ask them loads of questions, especially about why they do certain things and what thoughts they are thinking (or internal dialogue are they having) as they do them. This gives in better insight into their thought processes and motivations, which can also be imitated. If they work, keep them. If they don’t modify and personalise until they fit.

A realistic example

Jane’s story: Having just returned to work from a long 4-day weekend, Jane was having problems at work. Her focus seemed out of whack, she felt like she was drastically behind and unable to catch up. Abandoning her schedule, her emails, her team and her sanity, she desperately scrambled from one urgent meeting to another. Everything was falling down all at the same time.  If this was the impact of leaving the office for two days, imagine if she had taken a proper holiday? Something had to change.

Luckily for Jane, her company had just experienced a re-organisation, where all project management staff were now centrally located together in one area. She now reported into a Programme Office instead of the business area function she came from. This meant that instead of feeling isolated as the lone Project Manager in her department, she was now one amongst many. Jane used this as an opportunity to seek out the best project managers and use them as informal mentors. Hillary, who literally sat next to Jane in their open-plan office space, was a highly successful project manager with years of experience. Jane noticed everything Hillary did, from how she started her day (a quiet cup of coffee while reviewing her online day planner), to how she spoke with her project team members (picking up on the words, the style and language she used), and most importantly how she dealt with project crises.

As Jane observed Hillary, she started implementing some of these strategies into her daily life. The half-hour private space and time each morning to review her schedule proved to be invaluable when confronted with project issues and requests. Jane’s daily reminder and refocusing of what was meant to happen compared to what was being reported or escalated, helped her manage problems better. Jane also tried out some of the same words and phrases she had over-heard Hillary use with her project team. When they didn’t have the same impact, be it because of the differences in Jane and Hillary’s personality, background or possibly culture, Jane modified the words to suit her style better while keeping the intention.

The hardest part for Jane of her stealth, pseudo-mentoring was how to copy Hillary’s self-composure under pressure. Jane tried and tried to copy Hillary’s breathing rate, body language, mannerisms and posture. Nothing seemed to stick. Before she knew it, Jane was reverting back to her own, less useful strategies, and thus getting side-tracked and distracted.

Finally, she started asking Hillary for some guidance. She didn’t ask for advice specifically, instead she asked for specific insights into Hillary’s thoughts and beliefs as she experienced high amounts of pressure during a project. Understanding her mental strategies behind her behaviours and words, provided just the insight Jane was looking for. Now when under the gun, she practises Hillary’s outward posture and mannerisms as well as her internal dialogue:

“I am a strong, confident Project Manager! I know what I’m doing at all times! Even if sometimes I feel that I don’t, the people around me believe that I do and will listen to what I have to say!”

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