We are the whisper in the wind, the watcher in the night, the calm beneath the storm, the silent protector … Okay, so that may be a slight exaggeration. We aren’t Batman (no matter how much we might want to be). But we are the people — across industries — who keep the projects and people constantly moving forward. We are project managers.
People often ask me what I do, and my go-to sound bite is, “I am a project manager for a digital marketing firm that works with pharmaceutical companies.” When that is inevitably met with blank stares, I usually follow it up with, “I work on digital projects from concept to completion.” That’s about the time when people mumble something like, “Oh, that’s cool,” and walk away toward a more interesting conversation with someone who has a more understandable job description.
So for everyone who has walked away confused or convinced that what I do isn’t interesting or important, I’m going to break it down. Read on to learn about a few of the things that a project manager does on a daily basis and why we’re the invaluable silent partner working behind the scenes in many organizations.
We Create Structure Out of Chaos
Wouldn’t it be nice if we lived in a perfect world with perfect clients and perfect projects and perfect coworkers? Even in a near-perfect world, there will be chaos. There will be miscommunication and misunderstanding. There will inevitably be an idea without a clear way to achieve it. There will be risks, and there will need to be a person who can think through the logical ordering of tasks and identify realistic goals. That’s where project managers come in.
We’re the people in the background, building processes and tasks to make the ideas become reality. Project managers are the logic behind the drive for perfect execution.
The Fate of the World Rests on Our Shoulders
My Uncle Ben once told me, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Wait … I don’t have an Uncle Ben. Maybe I heard that in a movie. Anyway, the truth remains: as project managers, the success of any project weighs heavily on our shoulders. We may not be the ones who have to answer to the client, but we have to answer to our internal clients — our account teams, development teams, creative teams, senior management and more. We have to figure out why a project fell off the rails and develop a plan to get back on track. We have the responsibility to keep projects running smoothly and within budget, or be brave enough to admit defeat if it comes. The health of a client and a portfolio rests on our shoulders.
We Prioritize for Our Team
While we inherently like structure and order, we must also open ourselves up to be there for our people. In the world of a digital agency, it’s the complex and varied personalities on our teams that allow us to deliver amazing products, but these personalities also guarantee that there will be conflict and friction. We are the line of contact for our internal teams. When we’re on a tight deadline and everyone is stressed and at the end of their rope, we must do more than simply agree and sympathize. We must empathize. We must use our abilities to read the people around us and consider what they’re going through in order to make intelligent decisions fr the sanity of our teams and our projects. We must let people know they are valued and heard. I often joke that one part of my job is to be a therapist, but I find that in order to lead a project, we must also be able to lead the people who work on a project. And to do that we must be there for them, teach them, understand them and prioritize for them.
We See the Clouds and the Raindrops
We see the big picture. We understand the portfolio and project goals. We keep an eye on the finish line when it comes to planning and financing and resourcing, for our projects and other teams’ projects. We can sense the clouds coming in and the sky darkening, but we also notice the individual raindrops. We see the trickledown effect that every detail might have that could impact other items on a larger scale. Our job is to not only embrace the broad view, but also make a note of the tiny details and then plan for them, manage them and track them. On a daily basis, we shield our teams and projects from the raindrops while also keeping the large clouds in focus.
All That and More
There’s so much more that project managers do. We have to create unison between structure and flexibility, creative thinking and logical process, enforcing and understanding. We create efficiencies and repeatable processes. We solve problems. We are constantly multitasking. We have pride in our projects and our teams. On second thought, maybe we are like Batman — which would explain my proclivity for wearing black, the fact that I live in Gotham, and how I’m surrounded by team members I couldn’t survive without. Alfred, I’m looking at you.
Just remember: not all project managers are one in the same. We manage ourselves, our projects and our teams in different ways, but always with similar goals in mind. There is no uniform for success … just a cape.