Superhero: an exceptionally skillful or successful person.
Many of us have dreams to become greater than we are—an inner need to challenge our life's status quo and exceed even our own expectations. While growing up, most of us identified with role models... people who personified a set of ideals. In some ways I think a role model is like a Superhero; not necessarily the cape-wearing kind with super powers (though it could be), but the kind of person who is just really good at the game of life and all its challenges.
Now that we're all grown-up, we have an opportunity to become a Superhero to others. In the world of business projects, this is epitomized by the Project Manager—the man or woman who is capable of far-reaching strategies, versatile tactics, and bringing together disparate personalities to attain a common goal. Do you have what it takes to become a PM Superhero? Read on to see how to transform yourself in five easy steps...
Step One: Develop team-building skills — only the best need apply.
Hiring someone who is not serious about their profession (e.g., picked up some project management 'skillz' at a local workshop course) may not be the best strategy. In fact, it's a terrible strategy. If you want to build a strong team, then you need to filter out the wannabes and bring people on-board who can balance collaboration skills with the ability to work solo. If you're in a position to pick & choose your team (i.e., you're in a large organization), then select people who are best suited to the unique needs of your project. Past performance may be an indicator of overall ability, but remember that a person's skill-set may be wholly inappropriate for your specific needs.
Step Two: Be a great communicator.
Many of us have visions of having spectacular verbal skills, mesmerizing the masses with our honey-tongued soliloquies... only to fall flat on our face at the sight of eyes staring back at us expectantly. Don't worry, the fear of public speaking is right up there with the fear of death, flying, and things that go bump in the night. Being a great communicator means being able to convey a message in a meaningful way—so meaningful that the message is remembered over the long-term. This skill-set is of critical importance for PMs; use it to instill confidence in your team, put (and keep) everyone on the same page, and enable team efficiency by helping everyone to realize how critical & special their abilities are to the overall success of the project. Develop and nurture your communication skills (e.g., check out Toastmasters International), and it will pay you back tenfold.
Step Three: Strategist or tactician? Be both.
If you look up "strategy" and "tactic" in a reference source, you'll find all sorts of military-inspired terminology—lots of talk about objectives, operational patterns and logistics. Strategies and tactics also play a similar role in the business world; though, thankfully, grenades are not involved. As a Project Manager, it is your responsibility to understand a project's Big Picture (i.e., the goal) and the means by which you and your team will accomplish said goal. Your strategic skills come into play when defining project scope, specifying resources, and assigning those resources to project deliverables; in short, you are the guiding force and impetus behind the project's progression. Your tactical skills are used when faced with operational decisions; in other words, when something unexpected happens. Examples: a change in scope, a lost resource, or a scheduling conflict. In an ideal world we would all be strategists and never have to deal with tactical decisions, but being a good tactician is what hones your PM skills. It keeps you sharp. It makes you a Superhero.
Step Four: Everyone hates a meddler. Don't be one.
Your Dream Team is assembled. Your strategy is outlined. You are fully prepared for any obstacles that appear on your path. The kick-off meeting is history and the project has officially started. Now what? Nothing. Nothing? Yes... nothing... just chill for a bit. If you're a control freak, then control your urges. A fact of life is that micromanagers are as despised as <your biggest pet peeve here>. Yes, see how despised they are? If you interfere in a project's progress, then you are essentially planting the seeds of chaos for your team. Not only will you be mercilessly ridiculed (behind your back), but you will be undermining the confidence of your team. Every "helpful suggestion" or "...just checking in on you..." is a thorn in the side of your leadership aura. Being a meddler compromises your integrity as a PM and, more importantly, makes your project team question themselves. The end result? Inefficiency, disgruntled colleagues, and lost working hours.
Step Five: Have the right attitude.
Project Management is quite different from other professions... the job is never quite done. Sure goals are reached, but there will always be an improvement down the road or, in the software industry, an upgrade. A singular project can sometimes stretch on for years, though it may be disguised under different pseudonyms (phases, stages, iterations, and so on). It's not like being a Plumber where you fix a pipe and then you're done. So what does this have to do with being a (super)heroic PM? More than likely, you'll be dealing with the same group of people for a long time. In a large corporate environment you'll meet the same co-workers intermittently; in a small company you'll work with the same colleagues everyday. Given this, having the right attitude is what ultimately makes you a Superhero PM. Being open-minded enough to recognize different personalities, realizing what makes people tick, learning how to best motivate your teams, and dealing with a variety of people while remaining positive, upbeat, and goal-oriented... that is really the greatest challenge.
If you can pull off all of the above, then kudos to you! Put on your cape, good citizen, and go help an aspiring PM find his own inner Superhero.
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When not cooking seafood paella, Brian reads fantasy novels while drinking buckets of coffee.