Article Overview

What is the job of a Translation Project Manager and how does it differ from your work as a Project Manager? The answer is, pretty much the same and not much. The translation project manager, however, is very likely to have one certain quality that can help make your job simpler as a Project Manager, no matter where you are working.

Table of Contents

  1. What is a Translation Project Manager?
  2. What is Project Management if not Mastering the Art of Communication
  3. What Can You Learn From a Translation Project Manager About Communications?
  4. Domestically Speaking as a Project Manager

What does a Project Manager do? Project management skills require you as a project manager to accept the responsibility for taking any number of groups or individual components and forming them into a cohesive and unified force to complete the tasks at hand. That is just what project managers do, but as you well know, that is not the limitation of your duties and responsibilities either. The responsibilities of every project manager are to ensure all of the little details in place.

Among the many essential qualities that you must possess as a project manager are time management skills, people management skills and an exceptionally keen eye for detail and anomalies. Your time management skills are important, but they are also dependent upon your ability to create a sense of urgency for the contractors working on site. This is where your people management skills must also come in to play. If you cannot properly manage the contractors, then the entire project is at risk of running over budget and missing the schedules. This has the potential to disrupt drawdown schedules and milestones in the project, ultimately resulting in a major morass, even if it is not of your making.

Perhaps one of the last things you look for project management inspiration is from the translation industry, specifically from translation project managers. But there is a surprising correlation, and it may even help us all to look and conduct things just a little bit differently. This is more relevant now as there have been significant changes to our society as a result of the coronavirus pandemic such as online businesses for instance as the only viable way of doing business now for the meantime. The global crisis will result in new challenges and opportunities for growth for everyone, in which case we ought to open our minds to as much inspiration as possible to help us navigate through these troubling times.

International project managers tend to find themselves in a unique position, as you will know if you have ever worked on an international team. In the event that you have not, but you are considering it, there is a lot that you can learn from the experiences of translation project managers. In the world that we live in today, not only are international efforts going to expand in direct response to the coronavirus outbreak but also during the global economic crisis that we have been assured is “imminent”.

What is a Translation Project Manager?

If you have worked in both Mexico and in Spain, or even in the Caribbean as a project manager, you are probably already familiar with the fact that even the same languages can be very different from one location to the next. Why is translation project management?

At present, many of you are already out of work and waiting for this accursed virus to run its course so you can get back out into the field. Even as you sit there at home though, self-isolated and “social distancing” yourself in what is effectively a self-imposed quarantine, there are medical translation agencies working tirelessly around the clock to help bring the global pandemic to a conclusion through global efforts for medical document translation.

Inside the offices of the World Health Organization which is arguably at the very heart of this global battle, each document that is produced must be immediately translated into the six official languages of the World Health Organization or WHO. These include Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish. Each one of these document translations must be comparable to every one of the others, no matter which language it will be.

What does a project manager do? He ensures that all of these documentation translations are comparable and correct. And then, as you will know, the job of a translation project manager will begin to get difficult. Translation project manager jobs are much more global in nature, most notably during times of a global medical crisis.

Any error in the medical document translation, no matter how minor, potentially has grave results. Ensuring that variations of Spanish are correct for both Spain and the Caribbean is just as important and just as challenging as translating English to Spanish for the translation project manager. Jobs of this nature cannot be completed just talking to the client; they require the project management skills of an experienced project manager to ensure the accuracy of the job at hand and to ensure that all of the individual jobs are put together for the successful completion of the overall project. In this case, that just happens to be the end of the global COVID-19 pandemic.

What is Project Management if not Mastering the Art of Communication

The translation project manager is no more likely to speak all six of the official languages of the WHO than you or anybody else is. Like you however, the translation project manager has a dependable core group that has the capacity to make certain that all of the individual jobs are completed satisfactorily and completely, both on time and on budget. Where the translation project manager does have an advantage is in the importance of subtlety and nuance in language and communications.

I would be willing to wager that if you have worked more than one international job as a project manager, that you have already worked with “that interpreter”. You know the one, who swears that he is a master with your language, but at the end of the day, has a difficult time understanding even the most basic concepts. These people can take your job that is already overly complex and challenging and make it virtually impossible to complete. What is worse, is that they have absolutely none of the responsibility that is all on your back and hanging over your head.

What is a good translation company and how is that important here? A good translation company has the ability to understand that translation, like interpretation, is not merely about trading a word in one language for its counterpart in another language. A good translation company knows that translation and interpretation are all about being able to convey the words, replete with their meanings in context, and even the emotion and sentiment of a conversation from one party to the next. What is the most important aspect of being a project manager if not mastering communications?

What Can You Learn From a Translation Project Manager About Communications?

You know, there has been a lot of talk here about international projects and project management, but many of the same concepts hold true even when you are working at home, or at least close by. If you are going to become a master of communication, you really should work at learning a little bit about the location you are working. What if you were to walk on to the job site one morning and somebody came up and called you a frog? Would you be upset?

Some people sure get mad about little things like that. How is that relevant here? In Mexico, there are many light-skinned people and even some white people that are not relegated to the class of being a “gringo”. These people are known locally as “gabachos”. However, if you are working as a project manager in Spain, where there are perhaps even more light-skinned Spanish people, calling these people a gabacho would in fact be calling them a frog. (Hey! No! Don’t ask me how I found out!) Even when working with people who speak the same language, there can be crucial information that is lost in translation.

The fact of the matter is that even when working on domestic projects, the same problems are surprisingly common and a lack of communication can quite literally destroy an otherwise successful project venture.

Domestically Speaking as a Project Manager

Even when you are working on domestic projects, there may be variations in the languages being spoken by and between the people on site. If you really want to be more effective as a project manager, try a little experiment before you venture out into that next project across the country or across the globe. Take some time to learn a little about the local culture, the local people and the local vernacular. Try not walking on to the job site and calling the people frogs on your first day. Trust me, it will not help you to win over any new friends. Just trust me.

Maybe you are a project manager from New York City and you are undertaking a major waterway project in the Bayou of Southern Louisiana. If you walk in the door talking about Boudreaux and Thibadeaux, you best be tellin’ a joke son, and I reckon as you may get on fine. If you walk in and start calling people Boudreaux and Thibadeaux, it may just get your foot in the door a little sideways and uncomfortable like.

Learning enough about the local culture to speak to people in their own language at their own level is always going to help you out as a Project Manager, no matter where you may be working and no matter what the project may be. If you really want to get on well, learn a little more about the local culture, local vernacular, local foods and even some of the highlights of the local area. You should go in there and ask people to show you the best place to get the local food favorites, or maybe as for a tour of a local spot you have “heard so much about”. Showing the local people that you care is one of the surest ways to win friends and influence people, which is, after all, your job as a project manager.