Jory MacKay
Jory is a writer, content strategist and award-winning editor of the Unsplash Book. He contributes to Inc., Fast Company, Quartz, and more.
January 17, 2023 · 14 min read

The new project manager’s survival guide: 20 expert tips to follow

The new project manager’s survival guide

There’s no denying that project management is hard work. Even after decades of learning to master the art of running projects, data shows that over 70% of all projects fail.

For new project managers, that stat can be terrifying. The last thing you want to do when starting a new role is to run a project into the ground. So, what can you do to improve your chances of success from the start?

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The good news is that projects are 2.5x more likely to succeed if you use tried and tested project management techniques. Even better, there are hundreds of insightful and actionable project management tips you can follow that will put you on the path to success.

In this guide, we’ve collected the best project management tips for new project managers - from what skills to focus on to how to get settled in a new role, run projects, and build your influence.

What are the first things you should do as a project manager?

Unless you’ve gone through project management training, your first few days running a project can feel like pure chaos. (And even if you’ve been formally educated, a new role can be stressful).

So, what are the first things you should do?

Project management is a people-focused job. Unlike a software developer, graphic designer, or accountant, your job isn't to do the doing, your job is to ensure the doing gets done.

To keep their teams motivated and productive, new project managers need a combination of:

  1. Soft skills: The interpersonal skills that help build relationships, manage workloads, and lead a team.
  2. Hard skills: The technical knowledge, tools, and techniques that allow you to effectively manage and control a project.
  3. Experience: Lessons learned from previous projects.

Given you’re brand new to project management, the experience will come over time. Instead, let’s focus on the soft and hard skills you need to develop and how you can quickly put them into action.

The essential soft skills for new project managers

🙋🏾‍♀️ Soft Skill Why it’s important How to put it into action
Communication As a project manager, your job is to help facilitate team collaboration.

The key to collaboration is good communication, both within the team and with your wider stakeholders.
Meet as a team and decide how you want to keep communication flowing.

Ask people how they like to communicate and build that going forward. For example, you could use team chat, email, or face-to-face meetings to stay in touch.

Next, meet with your key stakeholders and create a communication plan for the days and weeks ahead of your project.
Trust building To maximize team performance, everyone needs to trust each other and work harmoniously.

As the team manager and leader, trust starts and ends with you, so invest in building trust early on in your project.
Take the time to get to know the people in your core project team. Ask them about themselves, their career, their future ambitions, and their personal lives.

Encourage the same across the team so that they get to know each other and form strong bonds.
Organization As a project manager, one of your primary roles is to become the chief team organizer.

Projects can be chaotic places, so you need to be organized to ensure your delivery stays on track.
Focus on creating strong organizational structures early on in your project.

Establish strong communication channels, get set up with a project management tool, create a knowledge management wiki, and research workload management techniques.
Time management One of the key controls in any project is the timeline. As a project manager, you need to learn to manage your own time effectively. Plan your own day to ensure you get all the things done that you need to, including project admin, team meetings, and stakeholder catch-ups.

Once your time is organized, work with the team to help them manage their routines - time tracking project management tools are great for this.
Motivation As the team leader, your job is to keep everyone performing at their optimum level by keeping team motivation and morale high. Schedule regular catch-ups with the team - both formal and informal.

As you schedule your project delivery, break the work up into chunks so you can get some early ‘wins.’

The essential hard skills for new project managers

👩🏾‍💻 Hard Skill Why It’s Important How to Put It Into Action
Project planning Your job as a project manager is to deliver the project, guiding the team from A to B to reach the objective.

The first thing you need to do is work out how you’re going to get there by planning out your project.
Work with the project team and your stakeholders to define exactly what you want to achieve (your objectives) and what you need to deliver to achieve it (your scope).

Then, break down the work required to achieve your scope and objectives, and use project estimating techniques to work out how long those tasks will take you.

Map those tasks out and you’ll have a project schedule you can follow from start to finish.
Budgeting No project is free. If you want to deliver something great to your customers, you’re going to need a budget.

When walking into a new project, work out how much time, money, and resources you’ll need to hit your goals.
First, get to know the right people in the finance team - they’ll become your best friends when it comes to managing your project budget.

Then, as part of your project planning, estimate how much each aspect of your project will cost, including your resources, raw materials, and equipment.
Stakeholder management Nearly ⅓ of all projects fail because senior stakeholders weren’t involved in the right way.

As a project manager, getting your project stakeholders on board is essential for project success.
Get to know your stakeholder analysis picture by leading the team through a stakeholder identification workshop.

Once you’ve identified the people who can affect - or are affected by - your project, start bringing them into the fold as project champions.
Risk management Projects don’t happen in a vacuum. There’s a whole host of things going on around you that are just waiting to trip you up.

Risk management helps you identify, plan for, and mitigate those risks before they end up causing disaster.
Risk management is a practice that’s as old as time, so it pays to learn how to manage risk.

Create your risk management plan by identifying and analyzing all of the threats to your project, and then plan for ways to combat them going forward.
Benefits management If your project isn’t delivering benefits to your customers, then it shouldn’t even be a project.

As the project manager, you’re partly responsible for delivering those benefits. Make sure you understand and manage them from day one.
Get together with your project sponsor to understand exactly why this project exists and the benefits it needs to deliver.

As you move through your project, regularly pause and confirm you’re still on track to deliver the benefits you set out to achieve.

The new project manager survival guide: 20 expert tips

Raw skills are only half the battle of becoming a great project manager.

As you start to get your feet under you as a new project manager, you’ll quickly realize that education isn’t enough. Instead, some of the best things you can learn as a project manager come from the blood, sweat, and tears of running projects.

Some of the best things you can learn as a project manager come from the blood, sweat and tears of running projects.

To help you skip learning from the school of hard knocks, we’ve pulled together 20 expert project management tips, broken down into four categories:

5 tips for getting settled at a new job (or project)

When starting your first project, it’s important to get yourself settled so you can perform at your best.

5 tips for getting settled at a new job (or project)

Here are five tips that will help you get started on the right foot and understand your wider project environment:

1. Prioritize listening and research over talking

As a new project manager, focus your first few days on listening to those around you. You can’t start to lead a project until you know exactly what’s going on, so make sure you soak up your environment first.

Putting it into action:

2. Identify and build relationships with your key stakeholders

Most experienced project managers will tell you it’s your project stakeholders that make or break the delivery.

You’re going to need friends and allies, so identify them early and start getting them on side.

Putting it into action:

Issue list for communication and management of stakeholders

3. Don’t focus on requirements, focus on benefits

New project managers often make the mistake of focusing on delivering project requirements rather than project benefits. Spend your energy focusing on what the project needs to provide to the customers rather than the detail of exactly how it’ll do it.

Putting it into action:

4. Identify your assumptions early on

Assumptions are the root cause of so many problems for project managers. If your stakeholders are basing their views, opinions, or project plans on false or misguided assumptions, you need to capture them and validate them as soon as possible.

Putting it into action:

Don’t be afraid to directly ask stakeholders what their assumptions are for this project. Assumptions are the root cause of so many problems for project managers.

5. Get to know your team and what motivates them

It benefits repeating that project management is a people-focused profession. Dedicate time to getting to know your team, understanding how they like to work, and what motivates them.

Putting it into action:

5 tips for organizing your team

Once you’ve got the lay of the land in your new project, it’s time to start structuring your delivery and organizing your team. This is when real project management starts.

tips for organizing your team

Here are five tips for organizing and empowering your team:

6. Find the right tools for you and your team

Especially when managing remote teams, project management tools will make your life 100x easier. A central place for collaboration, planning, communicating, and documentation helps you and your team work together seamlessly to maximize your chances of success.

Pro tip: Use Planio to keep your team organized. Planio was built to bring all of your essential project management tools together. With Planio, you get powerful task management including Agile boards, calendar project views, and Gantt charts, as well as metrics, reporting, search, and integrated wikis, cloud file storage and code repositories.

Planio Agile Board

Putting it into action:

7. Lay your cards out by creating a solid governance structure

The key to project management success is creating structures for team collaboration, decision making, and reporting. Whether it’s daily stand-ups, weekly project meetings, or monthly steering committees, schedule the meetings you need to align your team and get decisions from key stakeholders.

Putting it into action:

8. Plan in an Agile way

While detailed plans can be useful, some project managers get lost by over-complicating their project plans. Things will come along that disrupt your plans, so keep them high level and accept early on that they’re going to change.

Putting it into action:

9. Give yourself some budget breathing room

If possible, try to work a contingency plan into your budget. One thing veteran project managers will always tell you is that projects evolve and change over time, and the last thing you want is to be cutting corners or worrying about if your money will run out.

Putting it into action:

10. Lean into risk management straight away

Many new project managers hate raising project risks as they think it means they’ve failed to effectively manage their project. In fact, the complete opposite is true. The best project managers identify, manage, and mitigate risks as early as possible.

Putting it into action:

5 tips for proving your value

Everyone wants to make a good first impression. The good news is that there are some easy ways to prove your value as a new project manager.

5 tips for proving your value

Here are five tips you can use to prove your value early on and impress your project stakeholders:

11. Show that you can see the big picture

New project managers eager to please often fall into the trap of rushing into delivery. Show that you’re considered and analytical by regularly taking a step back from your project to analyze your wider project environment. This will help you identify and solve problems before they exist.

Putting it into action:

12. Create quick wins for your project

Building and maintaining momentum is vital to keep team morale high in your project. Regular project ‘wins’ help you do that. Achieving project milestones also paints you in a good light and shows all of your stakeholders that the project is progressing well and delivering value.

Putting it into action:

Pro tip: Use Planio to break down your large milestones or “chunks” of work into actionable tasks. Planio’s task management tools ensure everyone knows what work needs to be done, how it impacts the larger picture, and where to find any necessary information, files, or code.

Issue list in Planio

13. Don’t be afraid to celebrate your successes

Whether it’s to your manager, project management peers, or sponsor, don’t be afraid to call out when aspects of your project have been a success. Obviously, keep it subtle, though, as you don’t want to become overbearing.

Putting it into action:

14. Ask your sponsor and stakeholders for feedback

Because project managers are natural go-getters, they often forget to stop and ask for feedback in favor of simply moving on to the next challenge. If you want to build your influence, don’t be shy to ask for feedback on your success and the ways you can improve.

Putting it into action:

15. Feed lessons learned back to your peers

Every project is unique, with its own set of challenges, risks, and successes. To provide value to your wider organization, take the time to share your learning with your project management peers. Lessons learned on your project may help others and vice versa.

Putting it into action:

5 tips for building influence and advancing your career

As your project team becomes more skilled and autonomous, you can shift your focus towards your own career. Building influence as a project manager makes it easier to get more resources and support - plus, it can help you move up quickly at your company.

5 tips for building influence and advancing your career

Here are five tips to help you build your reputation and influence in project management as you advance your career:

16. Ask to work on a variety of projects

There’s nothing worse than getting pigeonholed into a particular niche area of any profession. As a project manager, variety is key to ensure you keep learning new skills and improving your competencies.

Putting it into action:

Variety is key as a project manager. Take time to broaden your horizons by learning new skills and improving your competencies.

17. Get a mentor

As you start to experience a variety of projects, it’s good to have a senior project manager on hand to catch up with. They’ll also be able to share their experiences and offer advice on your current project if you’re facing any challenges.

Putting it into action:

18. Continually learn new project management skills

There are many different frameworks and techniques for delivering great projects. Whether it’s waterfall project management, Agile project management, Scrum, or Kanban. Invest time in learning different methodologies to improve your knowledge.

Putting it into action:

19. Become chartered or affiliated

As your experience matures, you’ll want to validate it by joining a certified project management body. This not only helps certify your experience but it helps you meet other project managers and build your network.

Putting it into action:

20. Be patient

A career in project management is highly rewarding, with many opportunities to take on bigger and bigger challenges. To maximize your chances of success, be patient when progressing up the ladder to ensure you have the right blend of skills and experience to succeed as you step up.

Putting it into action:

Need more help? Get a headstart with these free project management templates

Project management tips can help you avoid common mistakes and pitfalls. But an even better resource to have at hand are templates.

Project management is all about documenting processes and plans. Your day-to-day work involves project schedules, scopes of work, risk management plans, and more. To help you get started, we’ve collected some of the best project management templates and resources you can start using today:

Agile templates

Project planning templates

Project launch templates

Remote work and career resources

Get set up for success with these project management tips

Starting out in project management can feel like a daunting task - especially when so many projects fail every single day.

But the honest truth is that project managers who use tried and tested project management techniques are proven to be more successful. Take your time when you start to get settled, organize your team, prove your value, and build your influence.

By following these project management tips, you’ll be setting the foundation for a successful career ahead.