I had a few interesting interactions and conversations with firm leaders, project managers, marketing directors, and principals at several companies recently. Their situations were all a bit different but there was an underlying "something" that connected them, though I couldn't quite put my finger on what it was. They weren't able to articulate what they were wrestling with during our discussions either. Then, over the weekend, I was sitting with a good friend and the stories I've been storing away from these experiences revealed an interesting phenomenon: Everyone suffers a little insecurity.
No one probably sees this more than project managers. It may be wise to accept that your very experienced team does have an occasional bout or two of insecurity; it may also be a good time to be expressive and appreciative beyond frosty performance evaluations. A client of mine shared the following note that he wrote to one of his project managers based in one of the firm's branch offices:
I am on my way to Phoenix this morning to see a client but wanted to follow up on our conversation from earlier this week. I could sense something was "off" so I appreciate you sharing your concerns. I didn't realize what was going on but I think we both can say that issue is now wrapped up and well behind us so we can move forward. It is a good lesson learned.
Though it may appear obvious, and I get so caught up in my own grind that I simply don't think about these things, it does bear repeating that your contribution to these aggressive projects has been invaluable. The client is extremely happy; your ideas and out-of-the-box thinking are exactly what is needed. You've taken the lead on the upcoming marketing and PM meetings and not only is that appreciated from a logistics and workload perspective on my end, but as one of our best project managers, your insight is going to produce a very effective session for every person attending – also exactly what we need. I know I'm looking forward to it.
We had a successful year and put a lot of sweat into making it happen. I know we're going to have an even more prosperous year and have fun doing it. At the end of the day, it's something you can and should be proud of. I for one am grateful for everything you bring to do what you do there – attitude, approach, tireless effort. Working together has been a fortunate experience for me and I know you can say the same. We have come a long way from when we first opened these doors.
Being a project manager means shouldering lots of daily pressure – keeping clients happy, meeting deadlines, ensuring projects are profitable, managing teams, working with consultants, getting it all right, and making it all happen. In today's economy, project managers also don't want to lose their jobs and are constantly proving their worth to their bosses. At the same time, they feel all sorts of eyes are on them all the time to be this "expert" the industry demands. They look at their peers and think others have their act totally together and wonder how it is done effortlessly, while they are struggling and second guessing their abilities.
Not everyone is motivated or soothed by a bonus or salary that is merely a fair exchange for a lot of hard work and long hours. Most project managers, despite age, experience, or gender, fight insecurities along with all the phone calls, meetings, and emails that make up their project life. Sincere appreciation goes a lot further and doesn't cost a thing – except maybe some pride on the side of the leader who is insecure about being expressive.
Christine Brack, PMP, is a principal with ZweigWhite specializing in business planning and project management best practices.
She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.