Project management is probably one of the more difficult roles in this industry to define. Which can make it equally tough to determine a career development plan or support strategy for the DPMs in your organization. Lina Calin, Project Manager at Sparkbox and a Digital PM Summit speaker/alum, has some ideas to help. In this guest post, she shares five ways to invest in your DPMs to boost your team, organization and bottom line.
Do you remember the Disney movie Hercules? The classic tale follows the story of an awkward outcast with incredible superpowers who knows that he is meant for something greater. Hercules feels led to help people, to build relationships and to be accepted. But he feels so alone and he doesn’t know how to use his powers. Then, at his lowest point our lovable protagonist learns that he is the son of the mighty Zeus, and everything clicks. Armed with newfound purpose, Hercules seeks out a trainer and finds Philoctetes. Philoctetes guides and supports the demigod through challenge after challenge, and Hercules grows into a mythological hero with his name in the stars.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: project managers are superheroes. Just like Hercules, PMs have incredible powers, but they may not understand how they can be best used. They may not even realize their talents are superpowers at all! Project managers may also feel uncertain, isolated and misunderstood in their roles. But like our Greek hero, once a PM finds their purpose and their support system, they become an unstoppable force, slaying project hydras, lions and Titans.
Whether project management is a new discipline in your organization or you have a growing PM team, investing in your project leads is always a good idea. Put simply, project managers have a big impact on your organization’s bottom line. Because of the nature of their role, your project leads are ultimately responsible for your organization’s profit margins, team capacity and the satisfaction of your employees. Healthy project managers contribute to the health of your organization. Fortunately, by providing your PMs with training, mentors and challenging opportunities, you can support them on their path to becoming legendary project leads.
But no one is suggesting you put your PM through the Twelve Labours to help them grow. Instead, try these five ways to invest in your project managers.
1. Encourage them to join DPM communities
Being a digital project lead is tough. It can be an isolating position that may come with unclear expectations. Both new and experienced project managers may wonder if the challenges they’re facing are normal. They may struggle to handle a new project crisis. And, like many others, they may struggle daily with imposter syndrome.
To combat this, encourage your PMs to join an online community or local meet-up group of other digital project managers. This high-impact, low (or no)-cost opportunity connects your project leads with hundreds of others in the exact same role.
When a project lead finds their community, they gain connections with others who share their daily challenges. They are connected with numerous mentors and mentees, available document templates, digital resources and scripts for difficult conversations. When you encourage your PM to find their community, you support them in finding validation, encouragement and new solutions to organizational challenges.
2. Enroll them in training & courses
Investing in your project leads’ ongoing education keeps them sharp, skilled and up-to-date with modern practices. More importantly, it lets them know that you value them as professionals and that their skills are important to your organization.
Even the most talented and most experienced PMs have skills they want to improve. Maybe they’d like to get better at team or process management; maybe they want to improve their operations thinking; or perhaps they’d like to learn a new, non-PM-related skill completely! In your one-on-one meetings with your project leads, ask them where they’d like to improve and what skills they’d like to develop. Then help them find a related opportunity, such as the Digital PM Summit Workshop Day.
3. Send them to relevant conferences
Collaborative problem-solving, learning from industry experts and connecting in-person with like-minded individuals are just a few of the ways project management conferences are a fantastic way to invest in your project leads. Simply put, a conference is an intensive training opportunity. But in addition to the training and education they’ll receive at the event, conference attendance also affords your project leads new perspective, new relationships and a step away from their stressful day-to-day.
Project leads who go to conferences are immersed in intensive days of education on topics and issues they face daily. They learn from industry leaders and their peers about project tools, methodologies, communication tactics, project strategies and how to prevent burnout. They’ll be able to attend sessions that speak directly to your organization’s current goals and challenges, and they’ll come back equipped with a fresh mind and targeted solutions.
Try to look for conferences that build community both before and after the conference, that feature a diverse panel of expert speakers, and that have a blend of personal and technical content. My favorite PM conference is the Digital PM Summit, which will be in Orlando this year, October 20–22.
4. Assist their participation in thought leadership
It is often said that one of the best ways to learn is to teach. This is just as true for project leads. Your PMs grow stronger in what they know when they share that knowledge with others. Encourage your PM to find topics they are interested in and feel confident writing or speaking about.
Project leads have a number of great opportunities to educate others. For example:
Invite your project manager to write an article. This could be a thought leadership piece for your organization’s blog or it could be an article for another credited publication.
Ask your project manager to put together a short workshop to present to your team on topics that improve your projects. Some examples include: improving estimation, spotting red flags, managing time or communicating with empathy.
Encourage your project manager to apply to lead a session or workshop at an industry conference.
With a few talking points, some practice and your support, your project manager will be ready to educate your team, improve their written and verbal communication skills and build their confidence.
One way to show strong support for these endeavors is to allow your PMs time in their workday to accomplish them. At Sparkbox, we encourage every employee to take a few hours each week for mentoring, professional development and thought leadership contributions. Sparkbox’s President Ben Callahan does a great job explaining why we encourage sharing knowledge in this Marketing Mentor podcast.
5. Remember your PMs are humans
Let your project leads know that you see them and you care about them by being intentional in your one-on-one meetings. In these meetings, focus on the project manager as a professional—celebrate their wins and acknowledge their career goals. Remember that they need support, validation and encouragement, just like every other member of the team. Some great talking points for your one-on-one meetings include:
“What would you like to work on this year?”
“What are you struggling with?”
“How can this company support you better this quarter?”
“I think you’ve been really strong in this area recently.”
“I think you did a great job on this action or situation.”
Also, don’t forget how often your project manager may be task-switching during a day! Task-switching takes up mental capacity that is difficult to measure or forecast, but it has a very real effect on your PMs’ work and capacity. A lower billable target for project leads may help balance out the effects of daily task-switching. Remember that a mentally exhausted PM is less able to serve their team and their organization. A critical part of investing in your team is investing in them as people, not just in their skills. Read more about the rings of investment.
Healthy project managers are your strongest project managers. Strong PMs can support business growth and development, keep a strong eagle’s eye view of their projects, offer strategic solutions to challenges and successfully advocate for the success of your clients, your team and, ultimately, the products.
Project leads take on some of the toughest parts of digital projects. Often responsible for difficult conversations, project strategy, scope control and team morale, PMs are continually thrust into new, increasingly challenging situations. Project managers are undeniably leaders, and it’s important that their leadership skills are honed, their support system is established and that they are proficient and confident in their work. All of this can come with a little investment into these key members of your team.
When you invest in project managers in these five ways, you give them the purpose and support they need to grow their PM superpowers to Herculean proportions.