10 Tips for First-Time Project Managers

When it comes to first time project management, you have to appreciate that there are momentous challenges ahead of you. From project definition to problem solving, the path ahead is anything but smooth. According to a report by Jessica, E and Elizabeth, M et al the toughest stages in your career will be handling this transition from an individual contributor in a team to becoming a manager.

Indeed in a whitepaper presented by Lawrence L. Tracy for PMI Magazine the opportunity to head project can best be described as a “good news, bad news” venture which highlights the myriad of challenges you face.

The Opportunities

On the positive side, a successful project offers the fastest way to the top of the corporate ladder. Senior executives in the company will closely watch your first project. If you are able to mobilize your team through to achieve set goals then you will have aced your first major test in your journey to becoming a top leader in the company.

Risks Involved

On the other hand your first time as a manager poses great challenges and if you are not creative enough this could be the beginning of stagnation in your career. There are a myriad of risks that jeopardize even the best thought-out projects.

These range from team conflicts, lack of a vision, limited resources among other challenges. The good thing is that once you are able to identify the weaknesses through SWOT analysis then you can dexterously maneuver and come out on top.

Tips on Gaining Success as a New Young Manager (NYM)

The line of argument in a report by Villanova University is that you must know what to expect and which skills to develop to become a successful first-time project manager. So what are some of the ideas you can leverage to ensure this is a ‘good news’ venture?

Here are some ideas collated from different studies:

1. Understand the Project Details

One of the major pitfalls for most first-time managers is the fact that they don’t take time to internalize the project details. It is understandable that you are overwhelmed by joy and you want to get down to work but you must remember your role has changed significantly. You cannot look at the project from the eyes of a team contributor anymore.

For starters you must ensure the project is built on a solid foundation with total buy-in from stakeholders. You should also learn the roles and expectations of every stakeholder and their influence. Additionally, you need to know your team and analyze the project goals. At this stage you should also check availability of resources, deadlines to be met and any other important detail.

2. Assume Authority

This is one area where you have to be proactive if at all your team mates will accord you respect. Most new managers expect that their title will force the team to respect their decisions but this is a fallacy. The situation is even worse if your direct reports were previously peers and to win their respect you have to be innovative as opposed to being overbearing.

The best way to go about this is by involving them in decision making right from the beginning. You should not force yourself upon them but instead win their commitment through regular sessions and transparent decision making.

3. Reframe Roles and Responsibilities

Your direct reports need to get new roles and responsibilities. This is one of the most critical determinants of your project’s success. If you set out without defining roles the project will most definitely be a fail.

At this stage you need to define the decision making process for every member to understand where to report and how. As a New Young Manager (NYM) you should also delineate roles you will delegate and make sure the team member(s) responsible appreciates your expectations.

4. Appreciate the Need for Extensive Learning

It is true you have earned your promotion but this does not make you an expert in every aspect of the project. Previously you used to be an individual contributor in a specific area and hence other team members are still experts in their varying tasks. As such be ready to learn from your team and other managers.

5. Leverage Communication

A survey by Rasmussen College rates communication as one of the top 3 attributes every manager must possess. You must be a good communicator if at all you want to succeed in your first project. There are a myriad of tools and other chat software that can help you to keep in touch with the team.

Through regular briefings you can assess the level of team unity, commitment and any underlying problems. It is also good to let the team appreciate that you are open to new ideas and regular feedback on every aspect of the project.

6. Lead by Example

Do you want well drafted reports? Well, you also need to write such documents if at all your team is to emulate the best practices. If you want members to be more committed don’t hide in the office but instead go to the field and see what they are doing. You need to be a hands-on manager without crossing the line into micromanaging.

7. Recognize Achievement

As a New Young Manager (NYM) you still have to win over the team and motivate it to be one cohesive unit. One way of offering motivation is by recognizing both individual and team achievements. When you publicly praise an individual they will get more confidence to contribute to the project while at the same time motivating others.

8. Manage Personal Relationships

This is a sensitive issue that is an Achilles heel for many first-time project managers. It is a major concern that will rear its head every now and then and you must handle individual team members professionally to avoid conflicts. The best way out of this conundrum is to instill a culture of equity and fairness in decision making. You should also strive to keep the group unified despite any challenges you face.

9. Craft a Vision and Communicate it

As a manager you must see the larger picture. Your staff might not necessarily have to do this and it is important for you to have a brainstorming session where you will explain how everyone’s role fits into the overall objectives. More importantly, they must also own the project’s vision in order to work diligently towards achieving it.

10. Be Decisive

Whether your direct reports were previously peers or not, you need to exercise your leadership duties decisively. It is true you want ideas from the team but ultimately you will be responsible in making the final call. You should never vacillate as this indicates to your juniors that you are unskilled and they will in turn lose respect for your leadership.

Final Word

There is no denying that your first project as a manager can be tasking but you can still ace it and add a feather to your career. Your leadership should be more about promoting communication, integrity, transparency and participatory decision making as opposed to suppression and control.

You must avoid micromanaging at all costs because this is the first step towards losing your team’s commitment. More importantly, remember feedback is invaluable at every stage of the project.

There you have it; first-time project management isn’t rocket science after all, is it?



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