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8 Tips For First-time Project Managers

by: Shiv Sharma
8 Tips For First-time Project Managers

While I’m presenting 8 awesome tips for first-time project managers, this is not a manifesto or set of perfect guidelines (as if those could exist for such a versatile role). It’s a personally informed post drawn from my own experience in multiple project management roles. 

I joined Taskworld as a content writer in 2014. Within months the company went through a restructuring and I found myself promoted to Head of Content. It was unexpected. Frankly, it was unwanted. I enjoyed spending my time writing and considered any other thing I had to do at work as a waste of time, especially meetings.  

But the company needed me to fill the gap, so I did. 

Over the next few years, I donned various leadership roles at Taskworld. I made many mistakes but also got some things right. Over time, I started appreciating and even enjoying it. The lessons here are from both my hits and misses.

1. Project managers, please delegate

Whenever I had an urgent content request from any other team, I would do it myself. It was a hassle to first explain and then review the work done by your team. Before I knew, this escalated into a vicious cycle where I was getting exhausted from hoarding work, not doing any favors to my team at the same time. 

Overcome your fear of delegation. It doesn’t matter if you have to spend more time recorrecting errors. It is your job to coach your team and review their work. 

Delegation doesn’t just mean assigning a task. It also means empowering your team with authority and trust to do it well. Of course, you’ll fail at times when you delegate. The solution is not getting back to doing things yourself but fixing its underlying causes. 

2. Higher people who are smarter than you

It’s an age-old open secret of recruitment – A’s hire A’s and B’s hire C’s. Good managers are confident in their abilities and understand that they are only as good as their team. They are excited by the opportunity to bring deeper expertise to their team. Good managers are always looking to hire people who can bring new skills to their team. 

Mediocre managers are unsure about their own abilities. They prefer to hire people who can be easily “managed” i.e. those who don’t push them out of their comfort zones. This is subconscious and not done out of any ill will. 

I must admit that as a new manager I was unsure of my ability to manage a content team. This evolved into a hesitance to hire more experienced writers. When I finally did hire a senior writer, she brought a new level of expertise to the team. That not only strengthened me as a writer but also as a manager. 

3. Never blame the top management in front of your team

You’re a sponge absorbing the pressure from the top. You’re also the face of management to your teammates. No wonder middle managers have the highest level of stress, according to a study by Colombia University. 

There will be times when you won’t agree with some strategic decisions taken at the top. This might tempt you to vent out your frustrations in front of the team. Don’t do it. Blaming them will only undermine your authority and shake your team’s confidence in you. 

Similarly, don’t pass the baton to top management for difficult decisions such as budget cuts and layoffs. Once the team starters feeling that you are helpless in most situations, it will be harder to gain their respect. For your team, you are the embodiment of the entire management. Own the company’s decisions even if it at times you don’t agree with them.

4. Own your team’s mistakes

Similarly, never pass the blame to your teammates in front of your manager. You are responsible for all their mistakes. Throwing them under the bus is one of the most striking signs of an immature manager. It’s also stupid because your manager will always see through it. 

Owning your team’s mistakes doesn’t mean that the accountability ends there. After that follow-up and find the root cause of the problem. Coach concerned teammates. This is your team’s internal matter and the rest of the organization including your manager shouldn’t be involved in it.

5. Don’t panic if you aren’t busy

Once you hire a good team and get them up and running, you’ll find more time on your hands. When this first happened with me, I didn’t how to react. The team was motivated and delivering results. I felt I wasn’t pulling my weight because I wasn’t busy. A sense of panic set in. 

In such situations, it’s easy to succumb to “management tasks” to fill up your time. Scheduling 1-1 meetings, impromptu discussions, reports, and dashboards. For example, I started scheduling weekly 1-1s with my team. The problem is that such tasks create more work for your team and offer little value to anyone in the end. 

I had a chat with my manager about it and he asked me to use this time for strategic projects – anticipating priorities for next quarter, mentoring potential leaders in your team, put structures in place for scaling. This turned out to be great advice. Many first-time managers don’t think beyond their current challenges. The luxury of time to do indulge in strategic thinking is a good milestone to strive for.

6. Understand that vulnerability isn’t naivety 

Vulnerability has become an important leadership trait in recent years. If you’re not willing to be vulnerable, then don’t be a leader by Inc is one of many well-researched pieces on the subject. 

It’s true that managers are humans too. And that opening up helps build trust in the team.  However, be careful that your vulnerability doesn’t turn into naivety. 

It’s critical to maintain some emotional distance between managers and their teams. Of course, the team knows that you are not infallible. You should always admit when you don’t know something rather than pretending otherwise. But as a manager, you will question yourself a lot. Occasionally losing confidence as well. It’s better to share this with your manager rather than the team. Once a team loses confidence in you, it’s a grind to restore it.

7. Don’t isolate your team

Many first-time project managers are agitated when their team goes over their heads and interacts with a manager two levels up. Or if they work on side projects with other teams without their manager’s knowledge. 

Remember, being a manager doesn’t make you the master of your team’s destiny. You are there to support not control them. Putting a firewall around them not only hinders their growth but also yours. The more opportunities your team gets to work with different people in the organization, the better they’ll become. Ensure that you are there to support them if they need help.

8. Reduce meetings

The easiest way to make a good first impression as a manager is to have fewer meetings at work. Too many managers have spent too much time and money to make meetings more productive. While it’s helpful, it pales in comparison to just cutting down on meetings. There are many ways to reduce meetings at work such as switching to collaboration tools for status updates, avoiding recurring meetings, and normalizing it for people to leave meetings midway. Learn more about reducing meetings at work.

I hope you found the tips to be useful. Oh and congratulations on your new role. You’re in for a ride 🙂

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