What Do Project Managers Do?

practices of good project managers

I was driving down the highway the other day and saw a large box truck coming up behind me. It was a non-descript white truck with black letters that was obviously in a hurry to get somewhere. As it passed me on the left, I was struck by one thing peculiar about this plain white truck. There was absolutely no doubt in my mind about what the company that owned this truck did.

In large black letters there were three words…Box, Pad, Tube. That was it. Three words with a phone number underneath for where to call to get more information. All this company did was supply shipping supplies such as boxes, pads, and tubes. Even though the truck looked like it had never heard of a Marketing department before, it left no doubt in my mind what they did.

This caused me to think about whether people’s perceptions of what we do as Project Managers are as black and white as this truck? You may not be the best looking or best dressed project manager around, but is there any doubt about what you do as a Project Manager? Do people ask “what is a project manager?” Do your actions and results clearly spell out for them what you do?

Unfortunately, the project management profession is fraught with varying and questionable experiences that people and companies have had with project managers. Some experiences have been stellar with project managers being leaders and direction-setters, managing complex online projects and making it look easy. That type of leadership is exactly what is needed to move a project forward.

On the other hand, there are also those times if people are asked “what is a project manager” they will answer that they are nothing more than a scribe to record meeting minutes, or an admin to do routine tasks, or worse yet bring coffee to everyone!

Are there some tell-tale signs you can look for if you think people doubt the value you bring as a Project Manager and what can you do about it? Yes.

Evidence that People May Not Value Your Position

There are a number of signs you should be on the lookout for that will indicate that people have doubt in the value you bring as a project manager. Watch out for these symptoms:

You Lack Confidence in Yourself

The first place you need to look if you are questioning whether people value what you do as a project manageris yourself. If you find yourself saying things such as “I’m not sure”, “If you don’t mind”, “I hate to bother, but…” on a regular and consistent basis, people are going to eat you alive.

It’s your job as a project manager to make sure you have the facts or at least know where to get them. Additionally, it’s your job to tell others what they need to do. They are looking for this clear direction and you should not consider it an imposition on your part if you are asking them to do what they have agreed to do in the project plan. There should be no doubt in your mind about what a project manager is, especially when it comes to your job!

You Are Not Included in the Loop

Do you hear about critical meetings that occur about your project after they have happened? Are you the last one to know about decisions that have been made that impact your project either negatively or positively? If so, you have a reason to be worried about people valuing your position as a project manager. If they doubt you can bring value to these meetings or decisions then you will quickly find that they leave you out.

Are you an Afterthought?

This is similar to not be included in the loop, but it’s a little different. It’s also the first step toward NOT being included in the loop.

Being an What project managers doafterthought goes something like this…”Oh yeah, we should have included [insert name here]. Can someone let her know what we decided to do?” You are then brought up to speed by a junior person on the team so you can update the project plan without consideration for any impacts these decisions may have downstream.

Relegated to Admin Tasks

Another sign that there is a doubt about what you do as a project manager is that you are relegated to tasks that fall into the category of Administrivia. There is nothing wrong with doing these types of tasks, such as booking flights, hotels, meeting rooms, etc. if that was your job. However, your job is that of a Project Manager and you should be spending time on those activities for which your pay scale matches. If people think that booking other people’s hotel rooms is your job, then they definitely don’t have the right answer to the question “what is a project manager?”.

Why You Need to Ensure People Understand What You Do as a Project Manager

It is a slippery slope if people stop valuing what you do as a project manager. The 3-step path looks something like this:

  1. Your Credibility Erodes – If people doubt the value you bring as a project manager, your credibility will quickly start to dry up. Your credibility is one of the most, if not the most, important part of your reputation you can have as a project manager. If people don’t take you seriously, you will find that it becomes very difficult to get things done.
  2. Your Effectiveness Erodes – Once your credibility disappears, your effectiveness begins to dissipate as well. Over time it becomes harder and harder to get things done. It takes a lot more hands on effort and pressure to move things forward rather than just a few words at the beginning of the project or activity.
  3. Your Confidence Erodes – Now that your credibility and effectiveness are gone, the final piece to go is your confidence. This is when you begin to doubt your own skills and value as a project manager, and then unfortunately the cycle begins all over again.

So, if you see any of the symptoms above where you feel as if you are left out of the loop or just an afterthought, do something about it immediately!

What You Can Do to Remove Any Doubt about Your Project Management Skills?

There are a number of things you can do to remove any doubt about what you do when someone asks “what is a project manager?”.

  • Clearly tell people what you do – Talk about your role in the planning process, how you ensure the right things are being worked on at the right time, your involvement in the relationship with the client and the fact that all of this is coupled with the insight of someone who has been around business for a considerable amount of time.
  • Take charge – I worked with a Product Manager that was new to the organization. She was responsible for the features that would make it into the next software release. The first thing she did was send an email to the entire company that any and all meetings, emails, or other correspondence that had to do with this particular product MUST include her. There was no doubt about what her role was and how she took charge of the situation. People took her seriously, respected her, and as a result she was able to accomplish a great deal in a short period of time.
  • Push back when necessary – Just because somebody asks you to do something it doesn’t mean that you have to. If it doesn’t fit in with your bigger picture objectives of what you need to accomplish, then it’s within your right to say NO to those requests that could pull you off course and distract you from what is really important. If you say YES to everything, you will quickly dilute your effectiveness and cause people to wonder what your real job is as a project manager. Be like that Box Truck I saw riding down the highway.

There’s no doubt about what we do at ProjectManager.com. We provide world class project management software that is used by 30,000 people in over 100 countries throughout the world! Our goal is simply to make it easier for you to be the best project manager yo can be. Give us a try today.

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