As a Project Manager, I am often in close proximity to people for limited durations of time. Those limits can be hours or years, but they ARE limits. Why? Because the very definition of a project is “...it has a defined end”. During these times I am fortunate enough to work with and for some wonderfully unique people of all varieties, religions, beliefs and lifestyles. No matter who I encounter, though, I am aware of who I am and where I fit within this world. For me, that has been the thing that has attributed to my success as a PM. While, self-awareness has been a natural part of my personal success, I have grown to understand that it is not something everyone naturally has.
While having a requirement gathering retrospective with a colleague recently, I was pointedly asked “What makes people like you the way they do? People you just meet seem to really take to you.”. Now, to provide some context, my colleague a great person who wants to develop better people skills, so the question was borne from a curiosity of “how can I develop that skill” more than anything else. That question, while simple, was actually loaded. My answer was a simple “I remain true to myself and focus on the work that needs to get done”. The larger answer boiled down to the fact that I have self-awareness, but on a deeper level I had to think more about those answers.
How am I able to meet people and hit it off? What mechanisms do I possess and implement that help during initial interactions with people? To begin answering those questions for myself, I had to start with understanding myself with respect to my own self-awareness. There are a ton of resources to help anyone find out how to be more self-aware and a simple google search will help you get started. Here, I’ll share simple strategies that have helped me start off on a great path:
Self-awareness, like most things in life, starts with understanding yourself: how you interact with others, how your actions, thoughts, and emotions align with your internal standards. Knowing yourself helps you to know how you will respond at every aspect of interactions with your project owner and project team. For example, when I am starting a new project or phase, I ask as many questions as possible. Putting myself in my project owners’ shoes helps to understand where they currently are so I can chart the best path for where they want to be. Most customer have an idea of the path...some even have specific expectations for how they want the path to look.
The key to winning in the beginning is to listen more than you talk. As a PM, you have to actively strive to focus on gathering answers instead of communicating your thoughts. This simple but effective mechanism helps to develop empathy between you and your project owner. That 90% of communication that a PM spends as their actual job, is also comprised of actively listening and absorbing from an audio and visual perspective the information your project owner is trying to convey.
A by-product of my self-awareness is my ability to self-reflect on the general curiosity of my thought processes. I question why I may think a certain way about a certain topic, often pointing out to myself where bias may exist. When assessing a project owners overall needs, I can’t help but to consider the environmental factors or operational procedures that led to their need for the project endeavor. Understanding those levers help you better understand the impact of change and ow that change impacts those who are impacted...something like wakes on a body of water. When a PM understands the motivation behind the ‘ask’, that PM can understand best how to manage the competing priorities and align them to meet goals faster.
The final but vastly important factor of self-awareness if having good self-esteem. When you think highly of yourself, your abilities and your willingness to deliver, others can feel that energy. The positive “light” you exude can change the trajectory of a whole project, can create buy-in and help forge a path for compromise. Project teams are made up of a group of people that are on-board for the change they see ahead and the PM can be the lighthouse within the storm of change. A good PM knows they don’t have all the answers; a great PM admits that and seeks the answers and it takes high self-esteem for a leader to admit that.
Bye for now,
Nicole ~ Queen PM