How To Take On Other Roles As a PM

what does a project manager do when there's many hats to wear and only one head?

We’ve all heard the expression that “someone wears a lot of hats.” It’s synonymous with “chief cook and bottle washer” and means that a person has a whole lot of responsibilities. These can be formal responsibilities that come with the job description, but more often than not they end up being some informal responsibilities as well. These are usually accumulated over time because of a person’s duration with a company or the fact that they are just plain good at what they do.

But what happens when the role of project managers morphs into wearing a multitude of different hats? Is this a good thing and how can someone who is in this position cope with the additional stress that this adds to your day?

How You End Up with Different Hats

When you signed up to be a project manager, you signed up for just that. A little time passes and you find that you’ve been handed a hat that looks like it should fit a Business Analyst. A little more time goes by and now you’ve been handed a hat that looks incredibly similar to what the Product Manager is wearing. Then you get a Tester’s hat, a Client Manager’s hat, an Executive’s hat…and the list goes on and on and somehow all the people on the resource management spreadsheet are…you. You are no longer just a project manager, with your raft of project management skills you are a little bit of everything and are expected to fill many different roles.

How did this happen? The following are a few ways this occurs:

  • Someone Quits – Everything is running along just fine and then someone just up and quits that’s on your team. You’ve got a deadline that looming larger than life and you don’t know what you are going to do. At some point someone has to step up to the plate and get the job done. You’ve never done this particular job before but you know it’s got to be better than it not being done at all. So, you step outside your project manager duties and pitch in. Next thing you know you’re wearing a different hat…
  • It’s a Small Company – There’s just you and 10 other people that work at your particular company. It’s big enough to justify the role of project manager being added to the ranks, but it’s still way too small to exclusively be only a project manager. You probably will need to help with some Sales efforts, perhaps Collections, and even a little bit of answering the phone. That’s OK, you knew that when you signed up for the position. By the way, you are now wearing many different hats…
  • You Are Good at What You Do – Over your professional career you have tried many different project managers roles. Some you have been remarkably good at while others left a little to be desired. Regardless of the outcome, you know just enough to be dangerous in a whole lot of areas. As your career progresses you don’t forget your past experiences. These are dragged along with you in every position you hold just waiting to be applied in a particular situation that calls for that experience. Guess what…you just put on another hat!

The above are just three examples of how it’s almost impossible in today’s fast-paced, multi-tasking, never-stopping work environment that you will find yourself stretched beyond that of project manager.

The Upside of Wearing Many Hats

There are some definite benefits that come from your ability to wear many hats. For example:

  • It Shows You are Valued – If your organization knows that you have a plethora of skills that can be tapped into, then you know that they view you as a valuable contributor to the team.  Especially if you get into the position of being the “go-to person” for when something a little out of the ordinary needs to get done.
  • It Shows You Do Good Work – You cannot wear too many hats without doing a good job. If you attempt something a number of times and are not successful at it, then someone above your pay grade is going to make the decision that this may not be the best hat for you to wear. However, if you are able to accomplish what has been set forth as an objective time and again, you will gain the trust and confidence of those around you, that you do good work which if you’re proactive will eventually be reflected in your project manager salary.
  • It Provides for Job Security – There are tough decisions every company needs to make when the going gets rough. One of these decisions is who to keep on board and who can be let go. If you have put yourself in the role of a project manager who can wear many hats, then you have a greater chance of being the one that stays around.

The Downside of Wearing Many Hats

The opposite side of benefits comes into play as well when it comes to wearing many hats. It does show that you are valued, do good work, and allows for a sense of job security, but it also comes with the following dangers:

  • Potential Conflict of Interest – The very nature of some jobs can naturally conflict project managers resolve conflicts of interest with the nature of other jobs. For example, a Business Analyst needs to be much more of a tenacious perfectionist who uncovers every stone, while the Project Manager needs to be one who knows when something is good enough to move onto the next step. Or, the role of a Sales Person is to push the envelope of what has not been done before, while a Project Manager typically likes to stay within the confines of what has already been done. You will find yourself with some internal struggling if you find yourself wearing these two conflicting hats.
  • You Can Be Overwhelmed – There’s only so many hours in the day, period. No more, no less. You can run into trouble if you have a full plate of project management and then attempt to do parts of 2-3 other people’s jobs as well. That means early mornings, long days, and late nights. This is sustainable over a short period of time but quickly gets old and counterproductive if it goes on for extended periods of time.
  • You May Wander into the Critical Path - There is one place you never want to run into as a project manager —the Critical Path. Wearing many different hats puts you at risk of stepping right on this path. For example, if you become the bottleneck in an approval process or you find yourself having to finish a deliverable (gasp!) then you are treading on hallowed ground. Your goal of being a project manager, no matter how good you are or how many skills you have, should be to stay away from this path at all costs.

Can You Effectively Wear Multiple Hats in Your Project Manager Role?

The short answer is Yes. If you have particular skills or talents in multiple areas and the circumstances require that you pitch in, then you can wear multiple hats. Go ahead and help out and get the job done.

However, always keep in mind that this needs to be a short-term solution to handle a crisis situation. The long-term solution is that someone should be identified to take on this responsibility which allows you to get back to your strength of managing projects. Your role of project manager is critical in any company and you want to focus on doing a few things well, rather than a whole lot of things poorly. Do what you can, help out where needed, and keep up the good work!

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