Succeeding as a Project Manager in the New Next

By James Hejka, Practice Director, Business Optimization Services Center of Expertise, Jefferson Wells

Just like almost every role within every functional area of a company, the role of the project manager has had to evolve due to all the changes caused by the global pandemic.

Despite these changes, the responsibility of a project manager remains the same: executing projects on time and within budget. Fortunately, project management features one of the more transferable skillsets, and an experienced project manager should have minimal trouble adapting to a hybrid or remote environment. But there are some talents that will have to be developed, skills sharpened, and traits cultivated for a project manager to thrive in the new next.

Here are several skills that have always been important, but that a project manager must cultivate in a different way today.

  1. Leadership. With more remote work and disparate team member locations, being a leader in any realm is more challenging. The project manager faces special challenges as most people who are assigned to the team do not work directly for them; instead, they are assigned to the project team in a matrix reporting fashion and typically still have responsibilities for their “day job.” This is when the project manager needs to step up and exhibit strong leadership through influence and strong team building.
  2. Effective and Proactive Communication. Communication is normally one of the most important aspects of a successful project manager . But with many teams working remotely now, the in-person “war room” has disappeared – replaced by the virtual conference room. Virtual collaboration sites, daily video calls, 1:1 phone calls have become very important since the in-person connection is now greatly diminished. 
  3. Dynamic Problem Solving. Not only do the “problems” still exist that occur in a normal project, but new issues like connectivity, equipment, time zone differences, etc. exist now due to the virtual workforce spread out throughout the country/world. The strong project manager must be creative and flexible to address these new challenges.
  4. Delegation to team members. Since most people are not in the same room anymore, delegation of tasks becomes a bit more difficult. Instead of an in-person conversation, meetings or phone calls need to occur with clear communication, detailed documentation and timely follow-up to ensure everyone is on the same page.
  5. Genuine passion. You are a leader asked to execute important company initiatives and the outcome is greatly affected by your attitude. Passion for the project, for the job, and for the team is infectious, and true engagement does not happen without it.
  6. Ability to build team camaraderie. This goes hand-in-hand with passion. A cohesive team is key to a successful project outcome. Characteristics of a strong team are trust, dependability, reliability, and people doing what it takes to get the job done. This is a huge challenge today when happy hours, team lunches, laughs in the office, personal conversations, etc. are all but non-existent. The PM in today’s world needs to be creative to create and maintain a team culture. 
  7. Honesty. Your team has to know what to expect of you and that they can count on you to keep your word. This builds trust and leads to greater camaraderie with team, leadership, and stakeholders. Avoid circumventing any team members or modifying expectations without notice. 

As you go about refining your role as a project manager, take heart in the fact that some things have gotten easier since the beginning of the pandemic, for project managers and everyone else. 

  • The talent pool has expanded exponentially as many companies see the value of engaging remote workers.
  • More companies have invested in capabilities to conduct remote work. 
  • A more effective digital environment has reduced the costs of project management overall.
  • There’s a better work/life balance — more family time, minimal or no commuting.
  • Many companies are offering free-of-cost training, helping people to upgrade their skills.
  • People have an opportunity to increase their network, build relationships and share knowledge.

Switching to remote working requires a balancing act. But if properly executed, project managers gain the ability to establish a highly skilled team that yields exceptional results. 

For more information contact Jim Hejka, Practice Director, Business Optimization Services, Center of Expertise at Jefferson Wells.