There are many reasons that may drive you to want to improve as a project manager. You may be looking for that next promotion or more complex project assignments, or perhaps it to ensure greater client satisfaction, or to increase the chances of project success. Maybe it’s for your own increased job satisfaction or simply a desire for personal growth. Whatever the reason you need to realize that improvement takes time and there will be times that whatever improvement path you have taken goes ahead in leaps and bounds, and other time where any improvements seem to move ahead at a snail’s pace.
Here are six steps to help you improve as a project manager.
1. First comes commitment – The first step in improving yourself as a project manager is to first make the commitment. This means taking the required steps rather than just talking about doing them. All the good intentions in the world won’t help you improve if you don’t actually go ahead and do something tangible. This is what separates those who actually DO improve as project managers and those who SAY they are going to improve as project managers.
A great way to commit, and to make sure you are accountable, is to keep a journal of your intentions, plans and goals as it relates to your own professional development. Another way to commit is to let your project team members, sponsor and clients know that you value and seek opportunities for your own improvement. They will all appreciate your openness and drive for improvement.
2. Define Improvement – As a great project manager you know that you have to have a defined scope of work for the project so you know exactly what it is that you are doing and it’s the same for any plan to improve yourself as a project manager. Start by taking the time to define the specific areas improve in. Do you need more technical skills, people management or greater leadership ability? Be as specific as possible as this will allow you to better plan how you will achieve your professional development.
Once you have defined exactly what improvement means to you, you can then document them and be able to develop a clear plan which includes goals, timeframes and metrics to know whether or not your improvement plan is working. Don’t fall for the trap that there is an end point in improvement. Once you have achieved one set of goals, you can define and set your next set of goals. Improvement is a continuous experience so don’t rush to file that plan away so quickly.
3. Make mistakes (and learn from them) – It may seem like a strange thing to say but let’s be honest, everyone makes mistakes so try and make a positive out of a negative situation and use these mistakes as opportunities to grow and improve. The smart people make mistakes and learn from them. The not-so-smart people make the same mistakes over and over again.
Often the best way to learn something and improve is to make a mistake and learn from it by asking yourself why, how, what, and when about the mistake. Try to use the 20:20 vision of hindsight to learn and improve yourself.
4. Seek feedback – Be brave enough to ask those people around you for feedback. Ask your team members, your boss and your customer about what they see as your strengths and weaknesses. You can do this formally and informally.
You can schedule a formal 360 degree review during your annual performance appraisal and career development planning session. Alternatively you can seek regular informal feedback from those who answer to you and those who you answer to. Learn to listen carefully to all the feedback both positive and negative. You can improve by both addressing the negative but also by doing more of the positive things you do.
5. Copy the greats – One of the easiest ways to improve as a project manager is simply to watch and observe those project managers with skills and experience that you admire and copy them. You can meet these great people face to face in your daily life, and you may also see them speak at meetings, workshops or conferences. It may be that you never get to meet them in real life but instead read about them in books, journals or articles. However you interact with them, take careful note of what it is about them that impresses you.
One of the best ways to use others in your search for improvement is to formalize this by asking someone to be your mentor. Don’t be afraid to ask that senior project manager that you admire to be your mentor, most people I know are flattered to be asked. Take the opportunity to meet regularly with your mentor and seek guidance on issues that you are having. I have found the mentors that I have had, have really helped me improve as a project manager.
Another thing to keep in mind is that by agreeing to become a mentor yourself to someone less experienced will also help you improvement goals as it forces you to think about what you can offer them.
6. Continuing education – There are many education pathways you can follow to assist you become a better project manager. There are many education courses from project management training providers up to world renowned tertiary institutes offering a full range of courses of every topic relevant to the profession of project management. You can seek to get a certificate of attendance, a diploma or degree, or an international credential as part of your commitment to continuing education.
As part of your own improvement plan you’ve probably identified those specific and general areas that you want to focus on. Look out for local face to face and online courses that will help you get this education. Choose the method that best suits your learning style, work commitments and financial resources.
These are just some of the ways you can follow if you are aiming to be the best you can be as a project manager. Congratulations on taking the first step simply by reading this. Let me know what works best for you.