How to Be a Better Project Manager

The biggest secret to becoming a better project manager is knowing you will always be a student. To be truly great, you will understand that you have never “arrived,” and can now rest on your laurels. You must always be searching, asking questions, and learning.

Becoming a better project manager is not beyond your reach, but you will have to stretch for it. Let’s look at the best areas for you to put your focus and energy.

Become a Communications Expert.

Mastering communications is perhaps the most important skill to have as a project manager, as you are expected to regularly communicate with both your team and the stakeholders. And when we say communications, we are referring to everything—verbal, written, and visual skills. 

Never underestimate the power of visuals to help convey your message. Things like infographics, schedules, charts, and graphs can be really helpful in communicating important information, especially for visual learners.

But, be mindful of what and how much you’re communicating. There’s a difference between what people need to know and superfluous information. You don’t want to overwhelm them with an overabundance of details and status reports. Keep your messages short and focused on what’s important to that particular entity.

Get a Mentor.

Look for project managers who are exceptional and ask to be mentored. If you’re relatively new to the role, a mentor can help you avoid rookie mistakes. You won’t have to learn everything from the ground up. Their knowledge and skills can help you grow more quickly as a manager.

But no matter what the stage of your career, a mentor can be a good idea. Each person you work with will have a unique perspective on how to approach a job. So, having a mentor will broaden your perspectives and perhaps, open new pathways of thinking.  

It might help to think of mentorship as a toolbox. When you work with a mentor, you are filling your box with tools that will help you meet the challenges of project management. Each mentor will contribute something a little different, and all of them are helping you become a more well-rounded project manager. 

Be Supportive of Your Project Team.

Offering support and positive reinforcement to your team are critically important for great project management. Not all companies can afford to offer financial incentives or rewards, but you can still make a positive impact with your actions.

In addition to making sure your team has the tangible elements they need to succeed, successful project managers go out of their way to acknowledge their team members when they hit important milestones.

We’re not talking about a quick pat on the back and a “way to go.” Successful managers take it a step further. Not only do they congratulate their team members for a job well done, they make sure the team understands how their contribution resonates on a higher level.

When teams are working on segmented pieces of a larger project, their work can begin to feel very abstract and they may feel detached from the larger goal. They need to know why their work is important and that they are valued for it.

Remember, your team is a reflection of you as a manager. When your team is performing well–you are performing well.

Never Stop Learning.

The one way to ensure you don’t succeed as a project manager is to study hard and get your PMP certification and then stop learning.  Project management is a very broad field and is constantly changing.  It’s vital to keep learning and developing your project management skills. 

There’s a reason PMI requires you to continue your education to renew your certification. Professionals who hold this certificate are considered to be among the best in the world. The only way to maintain a high level of expertise and relevancy in an ever-changing environment is through continuing education.

So, always keep a focus on learning. There are many ways to do this such as reading books, taking classes, getting a mentor, and attending conferences, 

Learn to Effectively Chair Meetings.

Want to be known as someone who gets things done? Perfect your role as a meeting chair. 

Being a project manager involves chairing a lot of meetings. If you can learn to run meetings where attendees leave with the feeling of having been productive and happy that they attended – then you have mastered this skill.

Plus, running a bad meeting could mean missed deadlines and deliverables or budget overruns, which will definitely not improve your reputation as a project manager.

  • Think ahead. Ideally, send out a meeting invitation and agenda a week in advance. Stakeholders and team members are busy. Only invite those who are necessary to the discussion. Giving them a week’s notice (if possible), gives them a chance to fit it in their busy calendars. And it gives them ample time to prepare, if they are expected to bring something to the meeting.   

    If there is a big decision to be made at the meeting, a week gives you time to talk with stakeholders, answering questions and considering options. It should help you get buy-in before the meeting so the process runs more smoothly and you’ll get a decision by the meeting’s end.
  • Assign Roles. If there will be a lot of attendees, it’s a good idea to assign roles in advance. Choose someone to take notes, keep track of time, etc.
  • Stay on Topic! It’s so easy for a meeting to go off the rails, that you must be vigilant. Distractions are bound to happen, and some are even entertaining. However, if you don’t “keep to the script” it’s much more likely you will miss something important or fail to accomplish the goal of the meeting.

    If something comes up that is important, but off-topic, acknowledge the need to deal with it, but defer that discussion to a later date.
  • Recap Before Release. Before adjourning the meeting,  hit the highlights and action items discussed. People can participate in the same conversation and hear something different. A recap of the meeting helps to make sure everyone is on the same page.
  • Follow-up Quickly. Send meeting notes out for review asap. Make any revisions necessary and send the final meeting notes, ideally within 24 hours. This definitely helps to underscore the idea that you are someone who gets things done in a timely fashion.

We have a good primer about how to run effective meetings at How to Conduct a Successful Meeting – Project Management Docs, and it’s a great place to start your journey. 

Write Everything Down.

Project managers are busy and deal with a lot of moving parts.  Keep a notebook with you and write everything down. This might seem cumbersome, and perhaps unnecessary, but a notebook keeps items from falling through the cracks and serves as a good historical reference.  

For example, if someone asks a follow-up question about a problem they had a few weeks ago, you can flip back through your notes to refresh your memory and share what action you took to address the issue. 

A little spiral notebook you can keep in your pocket is sufficient, but if you want the easiest way to organize your notes and retrieve information without leafing through pages of notes, consider the reMarkable 2. It’s a tablet that allows you to take hand-written notes that can automatically be transformed into typewritten text. Send it to your files or share it with a colleague.

Learn People’s Names.

The sweetest word to anyone is their name.  If you can walk into a room and address people by their names you will automatically earn a bit of good will.

Ron White has a very fun and effective methodology for remembering people’s names. We’ve had team members use his technique quite often. It works!

Working on Your Skills Is Worth the Effort.

As long as you seek out learning opportunities and remain open to what they have to offer, you will no doubt become a better project manager. And remember, the more you incorporate the skills above, the more second nature they will become.