I CAN’T THINK of a catchy opening line, so let’s jump right into my list of rules for creating a successful career in project management.
Don’t make your project management career the centerpiece of your life.
If you decide the only way to succeed as a project manager is to live, eat and breathe project management 24/7, then you’ll have become a slave to your career instead of being its master. It will become extremely hard to ever get the balance back later.
In the early part of your career, it’s OK to let it become 49.9% or even a dead-even 50%. Just never let it take over into majority control of your energy and soul by becoming 50.1% or greater percentage of your life. You’ll suffer both psychically and physically as time passes. Grab and maintain control of your career from Day 1 and never, ever let it take control of you.
Watch out for stormy emotional weather.
Relax! When you’re dressed-down and “counseled” about screw-ups you will inevitably make, then r-e-l-a-x. Let the waves of emotion roll past you and not knock you on your behind. Acknowledge your true feelings of anger when they’re felt. Just don’t do things that are stupid, as I often did when I was a kid, like tell my bosses they were the ones that were stupid or quit in a snit because I didn’t get my way.
Give it time.
Your career path in project management is just that, a path, not a high jump or pole vault attempt. Acknowledge to yourself on an emotional as well as intellectual level that, your considerable abilities as a project manager aside, it will probably be years before you get enough age and experience on you to be trusted with the really marquee jobs.
As long as your paycheck continues to clear in the meantime, that’s OK!
The only thing more boorish than an intensely angry young man is an intensely angry old man. He who laughs most, lives longest and, more importantly, lives best.
Remember, we are family.
Project managers, as much as any other group of similar occupational professionals, are, first and foremost, members of a self-chosen family. Like all families, we have leaders and followers, siblings, aunts and the crazy uncles we keep locked in the basement.
We have disagreements and squabbles and, sometimes, downright fights that seem dysfunctional to outsiders. But within the safety of the walls of our family, there is also a helluva lot of love that is expressed in as many ways as there are family members. When the chips are truly down, we all can count on our family members to do what they can to help us out, as we will help them out when the situations are reversed.
Ritualize your job life.
Project management, more than general management, is a series of agreed-upon rituals. Rituals to acknowledge the power of the checkbook and its usages, rituals to consecrate building of our job-temples and rituals to sanctify giving birth to the Wheel of Creation. Don’t fight the rituals of project management; embrace, learn and live them.
Celebrate your differences.
The strength of steel comes not from the pure molecules of ferrous oxide/iron within it — for it’s not pure to begin with — but from the minute “impurities” that bind the iron molecules together in a strong and resilient matrix.
Listen to and acknowledge the presence of wisdom from all you work with. Learn as much from the laborer who digs your ditches as from the CEO who tells you “no” you can’t have a raise right now.
Expect some misunderstandings and prejudices from the management community at-large.
Unless someone has actually been a project manager, he really has no clue as to how truly hard the job usually is. For all the so-called glamour involved, you often end up making less than the employees you’re managing, especially when stacked against the number of hours you normally put in.
Don’t sweat the petty jealousies from others. Stay focused on the tasks at hand and on what you will have to do to accomplish the goals that you established for yourself at the beginning of your career.
Kent Craig is a second-generation mechanical contractor and project manager with unlimited Master’s licenses in boilers, air conditioning, heating and plumbing. He can be reached via e-mail at [email protected] or by calling 919/851-9550.