Don’t get in the way of your own project management career

by Christopher Cook

Trying to decide on a career in project management? Maybe you’re already a project manager wondering what lies ahead in your project management career path? Is that voice inside your head, telling you to start doing what you have a passion for, stronger than ever?

Even if project management is the profession, the industries it’s practiced in can vary quite a bit. You can manage projects in a plant nursery or a road construction company that has multiple divisions. These industry variances can offer many project management career choices.

Any industry that you can think of needs a project manager. Many of us face feelings of failure or run what-ifs scenarios, but the only true way of answering that voice inside your head is to pull the trigger. 

Is starting your own business scary? Of course. But is it worse than the nightmare of going to the same office to see the same people and perform the same tasks? It is funny how working 40 hours for someone else does not compare to working 60 hours for yourself. Those 60 hours seem like a breeze when it is your name, logo, and signature on the paperwork.

Part of the journey is just jumping in the deep end and figuring out how to swim. The safety net of a 9-5 is always available, especially for the talented. Here are some tips to get you moving in the right direction.

Adopt a prevention mindset

Instead of being promotion-focused, which is if X gets done, then I look great, you adopt a prevention-focused mindset. The prevention-focused mindset centers around performing a task to keep what you already have. This refocusing keeps you from winning and losing in the eyes of the judge. Rather than it going great, so you win, you focus on the maintenance.

Say you start a business or a new division of an organization. Your decisions become prevention-based. How to keep the division in existence is the focus rather than how to make the division shine always. You are going to take your lumps. Trying to hit home runs every at-bat leads to striking out a majority of the time.

A prevention mindset keeps those strikeouts in perspective. You are not ‘losing’ because you struck out. You are trying new and creative ideas and learning throughout the process. You are not ‘winning’ because you hit a home run. The process is the same. Meanwhile, the results may differ.

Dismiss your feelings

Go full robot mode. You don’t feel like doing something? That’s fine, your feelings do not matter. Be disciplined and make the call or take the plunge. Feelings get in the way of great decisions being made. That phone call is a difficult one to let someone go. However, the addition by subtraction takes your team to the next level.

Your feelings delay this decision and let it continue far too long. The robot inside you tells you the numbers do not add up, and this piece of the cog needs to be eliminated to run smoothly. Tap into the robot side more often.

Relying on the analytics and robotics is not the prescription either. There are intangibles that individuals have that cannot be accounted for on a spreadsheet. The production does not add up, but the leadership aspect of an individual makes up the difference. Each team member has a role. Some produce, some lead, some follow, and so on, but those roles each add up to a great team.

Use the power of momentum to your advantage

Momentum is a fabulous thing. You get one small thing accomplished, and that leads to another. The snowball effect of momentum provides great benefits. You jump in the deep end of the home swimming pool. That leads to jumping off the diving board at the public pool. Years later, those experiences lead to cliff diving in an exotic location.

Those small, additive events lead to breakthroughs. Overnight successes are decades in the making. Use momentum to drum up interest and business. You lead a small team of three people. Next year, one person gets added to the team. The following year, the team doubles. Before you know it, you are the head of the department.

Celebrate those small wins. A day without rework is positive. A week without injury is positive. A month without absences is positive. Those weeks turn to months, which turn to years. You look back and do not even recognize the team that started this venture. That is the power of momentum.

When evaluating your career options in project management, remember to develop a prevention mindset, dismiss negative feelings, use the power of momentum to your advantage, and then pull the trigger. 



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