5 tips on working with junior project managers

Those who know me know I talk a lot about people who find themselves in a project manager type role with no background in project management. This is often a double-edged sword because while it’s often a step up for them, if they don’t know what they’re walking into, they can have a very tough time of it, resulting in a loss of confidence in their abilities on the part of their coworkers and management.

For the managers who assign large projects to more junior employees, here are 5 tips to help you support your people, and identify red flags at the same time.

1) Listen to your staff. It’s true sometimes you have someone on staff who’s consistently negative, and it’s easy to write them off as a whiner. But sometimes their complaints are representative of the staff at large (just more out in the open), so its important to keep your ears open and hear what your other staff members are saying. I know it’s not cool to smoke, but I’ve learned a ton next to the ashtray outside the office.

2) Take the initiative on project reporting. Insist on regular reports, asking for the top 3 accomplishments, problems and what to expect on the next report.  Ask for how much money and time has been spent to date, and how much money and time they expect to spend on the remaining work.

3) Use report reviews constructively. Don’t browbeat your project managers with why your expectations weren’t met; ask lots of questions and probe for issues. You may have a perspective that your project manager is unaware of, and vice versa.

4) Encourage openness and honesty with your project manager. You need the truth to make effective decisions. Creating an environment where your project manager is afraid to give you the unvarnished truth will ultimately hurt the project.

5) Let your project manager do his or her job. Keep close tabs through regular review sessions, but give them the space to work. In this way, you help them succeed and build their confidence, without sacrificing the information you need to ensure things are on track.

Remember if the project fails, it ultimately hurts you.  Be attentive and encourage honesty.

I’m a professor of project management at the college where I work. My students continually amaze me with their insights, passion and all-around awesomeness. I figure they deserve access to more answers than I can give them by myself. This site is for them.
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