Published on Wednesday, October 31, 2018
Being a project manager often means being thrown into a project with little knowledge of the subject matter. You might not have met your project sponsor before. You might not have met anyone on the team before. And yet you are still expected to step up and lead this group to a successful project delivery – despite the fact that you’ve never worked together before and never worked on this particular task before.
It can be daunting, but it’s also the part of project management that many people feel most excited about. The job is a chance to do new things and work with new people. Like many jobs, all of this is made easier if you have confidence in your ability to do your work well.
But how do you get that confidence? Especially when you are starting out in your career as a project manager?
Below we discuss everything from getting a recognized certification like the Project Management Professional (PMP)® to how to best plan for meetings so you go into them confident in the outcome. Here are seven ways to build self-confidence as a project manager.
A lot of self-confidence comes from talking about yourself in a positive way and believing in your own abilities. When you surround yourself with positive people it is easier to be positive yourself.
Negative self-talk and emotion drags everyone down, so avoid those people. We can’t always choose who we want on the project team, but try your hardest to get people on the team who have a positive attitude and who make you feel good. Leading and managing projects can be difficult work at times, so it’s important to have people around us who can lighten the atmosphere and brighten the dark days.
Cultivate a great team of people who you trust.
Nothing shouts ‘confidence’ like a recognized professional body giving you a certificate to prove that you know your stuff! The PMP exam is a good one because PMI® expects you to have gained a certain level of professional experience before they will let you sit the exam.
The concept of sitting an exam might make you feel less than confident. Let’s face it, many people haven’t taken exams since school. The pressure of the exam room and the expectations on candidates from family and employers can make the whole thing very stressful.
The best way to feel confident about taking an exam is to prepare adequately. Taking PMP certification training in advance of your exam will make sure that you know what is expected of you on the day and that you have a good understanding of the materials. Plus there is extra bonus that PMP training also gives you contact hours towards your 35 hours of project management education required by PMI!
One of the areas where we often see even PMP credential holders fall down is in preparation. It’s common to hear people say that they don’t feel prepared for a meeting or an activity. That can seriously undermine your confidence going into that meeting or task. In reality, it’s easy to do at least some preparation for all your work activities.
Take, for example, a meeting. You might not have confidence that the meeting will go the way you expect. You can take steps to give yourself the best possible chance of a positive outcome. For example:
· Ask people what topics they would like to discuss at the meeting
· Create an agenda that focuses on the topics from that list that you would like to discuss, along with anything else important that must be discussed
· Let people know if their topic has not made the agenda and tell them when it will be discussed. This can prevent them from derailing your meeting on the day
· Talk to meeting attendees in advance if there are any decisions to be made or any controversial topics on the agenda. Sound out their opinions so you already know the points they will be making on the day. This gives you time to work out how to address them or facilitate the discussion in the room.
All of this might sound like extra work for you. But it will ensure you go into the meeting confident in your ability to chair the discussion, keep everyone on track and get the outcome you expect.
Confident people have confident body language. And you know what? Body language is a skill you can learn!
There are plenty of videos on YouTube that give examples of what confident body language looks like. Find one that applies to your culture and use it to pick up some tips for what to do.
You can also look at the body language of your senior, well-respected managers within your business, or people you admire from other businesses who sometimes appear on television or in corporate videos.
The trick is to make your body language look natural. People will notice if you are trying too hard to fake how you stand, sit or hold your hands. The natural look will only come with practice, so pick one or two things that you are going to work on, and practice those until you can do them without thinking. For example, you might want to focus on how you sit in meetings, or how you shake hands with a new acquaintance. Once you have got those techniques into your repertoire, pick another confidence-boosting technique to try and learn that.
Having the PMP credential or another certification is great. But that only gets you so far. It’s also important to feel that you understand your industry or the sector you are working in. Many people struggle with self-confidence when they believe that everyone around them has a better knowledge of the business than they do. When you understand your business, you can talk with authority and be confident in your actions and recommendations.
So how do you get to know your industry? Networking is a good start. Seek out people who you recognize and respect as experts within your business. Ask if they’ve got time to meet you so that you can better understand their area and the challenges their team faces. Project managers are unique amongst business roles in that we often manage cross-functional teams and enjoy a lot more freedom of movement between departments than other staff members. Use this to your advantage. There is nearly always a reason you can come up with invite someone for a coffee.
You can also read widely – both information about your own business and about the industry sector in general. Here are some places to start looking to build your business acumen about your industry:
· Your company’s annual report or strategic plan
· Your competitors’ annual reports or strategic plans. Check to see what they have published on their website and read what you can
· Your industry’s professional magazines and websites: all sectors have media dedicated to the field; you just have to find them
· The regulator for your industry. Check out their website, especially the news section
· Blogs and podcasts: These can also be a useful source of broad information about a sector.
Being self-aware is a key to feeling greater self-confidence. When you know what you are good at, you can play to your strengths and go into conversations feeling like you have the skills to be able to complete the task.
For example, if you know you are good at project kickoff and getting everyone on the same page, you can host your project initiation meeting with confidence.
Tip: Ask other people what they think you are good at. You might be surprised to hear how they see you! If you have access to a 360 degree survey instrument, use it. Ask your HR team if they can facilitate you doing a 360 degree feedback exercise. This is where you ask your peers, managers and team members for a view of your strengths and core skills. The results can be illuminating, especially when you compare them to how you feel about yourself. You may find that other people think you excel in areas where you feel you are not so strong. These areas might be worth spending more time developing as people think you are good at them!
Finally, think about areas where you are not so good. That might be the numerical aspects of project management like budgeting, or dealing with the concept of risk, or conflict management. Whatever it is, the first step to feeling more confident about it is to understand those areas where you could do better. Everyone has them, so be honest with yourself about yours. You can also ask trusted colleagues or your manager where they think you could improve.
Now you know what they are, you can address them – but not in the way you might be thinking. If you truly love conflict management and wish with all your heart you were an expert at it, then it could be worth putting in the hours and the practice to get really good at dealing with disputes. But generally, we don’t love the things we aren’t good at. We need to find other ways of filling the gaps around our confidence levels.
We already talked about surrounding yourself with positive people. Now think about how you can surround yourself with people who fill your gaps. So you aren’t good at risk management. It doesn’t matter if you have someone on your project team who can do that role alongside you. As long as someone on the project is actively managing risk it doesn’t have to be you. Doing the risk management for a project could be a fantastic learning opportunity for someone else on the team, and a good way for them to gain new skills and exposure within the business.
The seven ways to build confidence discussed above are not the only things you can do to feel more confident in your work as a project manager. Simply carrying out your job day-to-day will also build your confidence. You’ll be thrown into new settings, deal with new problems and find ways of handling challenging situations. All that experience, combined with a solid grounding in the foundations of good project management practice through a certification like PMP®, will help you approach projects with confidence every day.
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