How to tell if a project manager is heading for disaster

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The author spent the first part of her career working in IT and IT Project Management in the oil industry and investment banking on complex global projects involving the management of outsourced project teams. She now runs a digital marketing company with particular expertise in technical SEO and Content Marketing.

Project managers tend to be in the business of order, organisation and control. They live in a place where trust goes without saying, and where their actions are always accountable. In most cases this makes project managers pretty safe individuals, always cautious about what they think, say and do and always striving to reach their goals.

However, there are some times when a project manager can start to get into trouble, and often can’t see it for themselves. Here are a few occasions when a project manager can be treading in dangerous territory, and could be heading for disaster:

1.      Too much information

They say that a project manager doesn’t need to be an expert in his field, although it does help, but sometimes a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. Usually knowing enough of the technical side to be comfortable asking questions and probing situations is a good thing, but project managers must know their limits if they don’t want to end up treading on the experts toes and looking rather silly.

2.      Not enough information

Just as overestimating knowledge can be a dangerous thing, so not knowing enough can be tricky too. Being blissfully unaware of the technicalities of a project, or failing to understand the full remit of a role can lead to problems going undetected for too long, until such time as they are impossible to rectify. Project managers can’t be an expert in everything, but they can surround themselves with the right skills and expertise and actively listen to the advice of others.

3.      Overly comfortable

When the project is going well, it’s great. Sailing along nicely can feel like the best thing in the world to the typically anxious PM. However, good times should be taken with a pinch of salt, as all too often project managers can become overly comfortable with the situation and start taking things from granted. This feeling of confidence only breeds laziness, and that’s when fundamental aspects of project management can start to get overlooked.

4.      Lack of flexibility

Project managers live and breathe their project plan. And so they should; after all this is the document that has formed the basis of their milestones, budget planning and resource allocation for the duration of the project. However, project managers who become too bogged down in the predefined project plan can forget that the overall goal is to deliver the results as specified in the business plan. If they start to become rigid about sticking to prearranged plans, they can miss valuable opportunities and lose focus of what the real goal actually is.

5.      Feeding panic into the team

Sometimes things don’t go well. Sometimes things are simply disastrous. As the project manager, part of the role is to shield the team from some of the external pressures coming their way, and to maintain an air of control and calm, even if everything seems to be falling apart. By keeping the team motivated and confident, something may be salvaged from a bad situation. But feed the panic through to them, and nothing but chaos will ensue.

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Project management has developed into a fully-fledged chartered profession since the granting of the Royal Charter in the UK to The Association for Project Management (APM) in 2017. Training courses for project managers were already available and highly popular to help people gain professional project management accreditation, but with this wider recognition of the profession it is now seen as a desirable career path for many. Whilst the APM has the coveted Royal Charter and continues to develop its APM PMQ (formerly the APMP) programmes, there are also other internationally recognised qualifications that continue to be highly regarded such as PMP and PRINCE2.

Organisations have become increasingly project-focused in this era of rapidly emerging new technologies and they value the expertise that comes with experienced and fully qualified project teams and managers. By investing in their project management capability businesses can be confident of delivering their new projects in time and on budget more often and more successfully. Many major corporation are now training their people to have the right project management qualifications as well as relevant experience, through internal Learning & Development (L&D) programmes; or by using external project management training providers.

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