4 Skills For Keeping Your Job

no project manager is an island

Reality shows. A genre that crept up on all of us a little over a decade ago and has now infiltrated nearly every other show that is offered to us. A key aspect to most reality shows is that someone is going to be “voted off the island”. This painful process of elimination is drawn out over minutes, hours, days, and weeks as a group of peers fastidiously goes down another person’s strengths and weaknesses, what type of threat they could be in the future to their success, as well as what they bring to the table and vote off (in most cases) the weakest person.

Now, change gears with me and bring this process to a reality show I call “Corporate Life”. You will find that at its most basic level the same decision process is made. It’s time for a company to downsize. The company may have been negatively impacted by the economy, a large customer may have pulled out, or their products and services are quickly becoming irrelevant in the marketplace. Projects are being cut and project resources are stretched. It’s time to vote the next group of people off the island.

The voting off process goes something like this. There’s a lot of whispering and pontification within a select group of peers (managers and executives) about who needs to get voted off the island. They will spend days and weeks behind closed doors going down the list of names, salaries, skills, reasons to go, reasons to stay and other criteria that will help them make their decision. Once the final list is made, plans are put in place for the ceremonial ritual of dragging everyone into a large conference room and then picking them off one-by-one.

It’s really not personal. It is just business. Everyone in that room can see the numbers as well as anyone else and understand that either they have to go, or the entire company runs the risk of going under. It’s very logical and makes sense. But, it’s still a shock and hurts nonetheless.

The reality of this reality show called Corporate Life is that nobody wants to be voted off the island. During times like this, Project Managers may find themselves in a precarious situation. While we all know the value that a Project Manager brings to a company, others may not. They may just see a Project Manager as an unnecessary layer of middle management that can be dismissed with minimal impact. After all, everyone can manage their own projects, right? That mentality is why you need to understand how to be a Project Manager that does not get voted off the island.

If you’ve ever had the opportunity to talk to someone who has been part of the decision making process, or have been part of it yourself, the first thing you realize is that it’s not a game. People take this responsibility very seriously realizing that it affects people’s incomes, families, lives and even sense of who they are. However, there are certain things you can do as a Project Manager that may make it easier for them to lean toward keeping you on the island. The following four suggestions are how to be a Project Manager that stays on with the company during those tough times.

Note: The time to start exhibiting these skills, qualities and attributes are not when everyone is huddled up in the room making their decision. The time is now before the decision making process starts! Make it amazingly easy for them to make the decision that favors your way.

1. The Ability to Self-Manage

The first quality you must have if you are wondering how to be a Project Manager that stays on, is to have the ability to self-manage. What does this mean? This means that you know what you should be doing and you don’t wait around for anyone else to come to you with specific directions about what to do. If you find yourself waiting around for instruction and direction from your boss, or client, or even your peers, then you’re going to quickly find yourself in trouble.

A big part of managing yourself is the ability to know what is important and having the ability to prioritize. This allows you to work on the right thing at the right time and not get caught in the trap of unnecessarily spinning your wheels. Many Project Managers find themselves in the trap of confusing being busy with being productive. They may walk around the office with their clipboard, a scowl on their face, and at a rapid pace. They look incredibly busy, but they are incredibly busy working on the wrong thing. It could be compared to someone scurrying around to straighten the deck chairs on The Titanic. Sure, that could keep you busy for some time but to what end?

2. The Ability to be a Self-Starter

If you are looking to learn how to be a Project Manager that is part of the “going forward” team, then an extension of managing yourself is to be a self-starter. This means that you have the catalyst within yourself to get things going. You have an internal pilot light that never goes out, but rather ignites the passion and energy you need to get others around you motivated.This means you can’t stand around and wait for someone to come to you, to tell you, that you did a good job in order to feel good about yourself. You need to have the experience, wisdom, and insight within yourself that you know when you’ve done a good job and when you may have stumbled a bit. You then pick yourself up, learn from that experience, and keep moving forward…without help from anyone else.

3. The Ability to be Versatile

Versatility is an important aspect of anyone who works in business today. project managers are good at juggling many projects at once It’s the ability to do multiple things at multiple times and switch back and forth with ease. We’re not talking about multi-tasking. Multi-tasking usually ends up being the ability for someone to do a whole lot of things poorly by just giving the task at hand enough attention to say they’ve done it. The results are marginal and typically not exceptional.

If you are looking for how to be a Project Manager that stays around during tough times, then you need to be able to see the big picture as well as the little picture. You need to be able to understand and create strategic direction that is within your control, and then take it down to the tactical level. You need to be able to speak “sales” to the Sales team, “tech” to the Engineering team, and “business” to the executive team. And you need to do all of these things exceptionally well in order to stand out from the rest.

4. A Volunteer Spirit

Do you know the three little words that mean so much that are rarely heard on the reality show called Corporate Life? No, not “I love you”, but rather “I’ve got that”. This is when people go through the room looking for an owner of a particular task or activity and everyone slides down in their seats hoping to not be picked. Amazingly, coincidental business fires seem to erupt that people need to take care of immediately and they promptly exit the room never to be seen or heard from again. And you wind up just sitting there like a deer caught in the headlights.

Try these three little words next time…“I’ve got that”. Say this before everyone slides down in their seats or leaves the room for a faux emergency. You will find that when the decision making process is going down, people will remember you uttering those three little words time and again and this will ultimately give them more input to make their decision easier.

While there is no silver bullet on how to be a Project Manager that is not voted off the island, these four principles will certainly put you in a much better position when the next council convenes!

Looking for another way to survive the reality show called Corporate Life? Make sure you have at least a 30-day free trial of ProjectManager.com with you at all times! This extremely versatile, agile, and lightning fast application allows you to share project plans, manage your teams online, and track progress daily. Anyone would be crazy if they voted those skills off the island!

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