How to Be the Best Project Manager (Even If You're Not a PM)

Sep 24, 2018
Post Masthead

Maybe you have heard the phrase “fake it ‘til you make it”.

If your answers were “sure, I’ve heard of it” or “yep… I live my life by it”, then you know what I’m talking about.

The same goes for project management.

Project managers seem like super organized, diligent, disciplined professionals who always seem to have their sh*t together.

Believe it or not, that isn’t always the case…

We actually did a recent poll on Twitter, asking our audience how confident they felt about their project management skills.

Here is what we discovered:


There you have it: 43 percent of those who responded to our poll admitted that their project management success was “hit or miss”. Only 36 percent were confident or were “baller” project managers.

Most people don't know the basic standards for managing projects — and therefore their own work. As a result, most managers don't feel like they have a good handle on what it means to be a really good, successful PM.

If you are reading this and identify with the less-than-confident project managers, below is a super-quick guide on how to operate like a solid project manager (even if you really aren’t one).

Top 10 Tips on How to Be the Best Project Manager

1. Get Organized. Organization is key. If you aren’t an organized person by nature, then this might be difficult to grasp. If you are an organized professional already, then this step might be easier, but you may have to organize yourself—and your work—differently.

Regardless of your work, or your organization tendencies, here are some tips on how to get organized like a project manager:

- Begin each day by prioritizing the top three tasks, and reviewing goals.

- Use a calendar to track project deadlines, milestones, and task due dates — for yourself and your team.

- Use a task management tool to keep track of tasks, who is working on what, and when each task is due.

- Unclutter your email. Working with a cluttered email inbox is enough to give anyone anxiety. Delete or file away “junk” emails, or emails you know you will never read. Use a folder structure or system for project-related correspondence, details, and other pertinent information. File away those emails.

*Tip: NEVER delete correspondence from team members or clients!

Once you have cleaned up your inbox, use a “follow up” system. If you are a Gmail or Outlook user, you can use the “star” or “flag” features to help you organize the emails that remain in your inbox.

Of course, these are just some ideas to help you get organized. The key takeaways are to A) find an organization system that works best for you, and B) use it. Every day.

2. Understand the Project Scope. Okay, we are going to get into project management speak here for just a second. Each project has its own set of requirements or specifications. These requirements or specifications make up the project scope, which is essentially project details.

One crucial area of project management is to have a clear understanding of the project scope. This involves understanding what is involved in the project—and what isn’t—as well as project goals and objectives.

If a manager doesn’t have a full grasp of the project scope, then this can lead to missed details, which can impact the quality of deliverables, compromising the project as a whole.

3. Set Realistic Expectations. Today’s clients want projects done as quickly as possible and for cheap. However, we both know that this isn’t always possible. In fact, in most cases, this is far from realistic.

Set realistic expectations with customers, team members, and yourself, especially related to cost and turnaround time. Even if this warrants an uncomfortable or tense conversation, it is incredibly important for ensuring project success.

4. Use the Right Tools. Let’s circle back to getting organized for a second. The list has one element in common: tools. A calendar. A task management tool. Email features. With today’s technology, tools are a dime a dozen. There are a ton of task management tools, calendar tools, project management tools, budgeting tools and so on that are designed to take the complexity out of managing projects.

No, not all tools are super robust. The point we are trying to make is that using the right tools consistently can help remove the guesswork and make managing work and projects easier.

5. Hire or Recruit the Right Team. In addition to using the right tools, recruiting the right team for a project is half the battle. A large part of project management involves managing resources, particularly people or talent.

Therefore, recruiting team members who are experienced in working with a particular customer account, and who are also reliable, dependable, and skilled in a specific knowledge area are all great resources to consider for your project.

6. Focus on the REAL Issues. The world of project management can quickly spin out of control, especially if you aren’t prepared or if you get too caught up in the details. Many managers are super analytical and technical professionals; therefore, they easily get caught up in the details of a project or task, rather than focus on the big picture.

If this happens to you, then be sure to take a step back from time to time, think about the goal of the project as well as stakeholders’ goals, and then approach the project at a different angle.

7. Have a Backup Plan. Yup, projects fail. It happens. Every day. Projects fail for a few reasons:

- A lack or organization, drive or clear focus\

  • Poor communication\
  • Overly complex process or methodology\
  • No back up plan

Every project needs a backup plan. In the world of project management, we call this risk management. Projects don’t always go according to plan, and it’s not always due to poor project management; there may be a number of factors at play.

However, proceeding with your project without a Plan B, or a contingency plan, is a recipe for disaster. If your project starts to head downhill, and you don’t have a backup plan, you will inevitably crash and burn with it.

8. Build a Process. Here’s another failure-prone area: process (or a lack thereof). Without a process, a project becomes super difficult to manage. It becomes kind of a free for all: Team members don’t know or understand what they should be working on, and no one knows which end is up…

Building a process that everyone understands and can follow should be the first step. Yes, building a process can require some time, and possibly a small investment, but it will help position you, your team, and your business to experience more project success, which equals more revenue.

9. Practice Amazing Communication. Never underestimate the power of good communication. In fact, a large portion of good project management is centered around communication. Communication impacts multiple areas of a project: project team to client; manager to project team; project team to manager; team member to team member—you get the point.

Having conversations should be easy. Adopt as many communication channels as necessary, such as chat, email, phone calls, meetings and so on, and practice open communication across all of them.

Yes, you will need to set boundaries on which communication channels are appropriate for certain situations. For example, having a follow up conversation with a client to address some key questions and concerns about a project is probably best done over the phone or an in-person meeting (if possible), rather than a Gchat.

It’s also important to be clear in your communication. This will make it easier for everyone to stay on the same page. It will also prevent misinterpretations or mixed messages.

10. Be Positive—and Patient. All in all, regardless of whether you have been a manager for one day or a decade, developing good leadership and project management skills requires practice and experience. It’s important to remember to be positive and patient with clients, team members, and especially yourself.

Project Management: The Real World

Much like any job or career choice, being a project manager isn’t always enjoyable. It can be difficult, stressful, and require long hours. Furthermore, many project managers are often under a great deal of pressure to keep projects on track to hit milestones and deadlines and remain within budget constraints.

Many project managers also claim that it can be incredibly difficult to leave work, go home, and completely disconnect from their jobs. This is especially true for smaller companies that employ only one project manager. In these cases, that one project manager might be in charge of ALL projects, requiring him or her to juggle responsibilities, which can cause a pretty serious time crunch.

Not only is a project manager responsible for keeping a project organized and on track, he or she is also responsible for the people side of the project.

The sad reality is that many employees dislike working with a project manager. This can cause a disruption in productivity, morale, cooperation and even lead to arguments or conflicts.

Therefore, adopting an open, helpful, mentor-like leadership style is important for working with team members.

This goes a long way when managing a team, and will also ensure that your team members enjoy working with you. No, you aren’t there to be their friend, but adopting a patient, positive, helpful “open-door” attitude is really the best policy.

All in all, yes, being a successful project manager requires some knowledge of project management, but possessing and applying both hard and soft skills, including practicing good communication, leadership, accountability, strategic thinking, creative problem solving and the confidence to make decisions.

Hard skills can be helpful, too, but aren’t always necessary. In fact, having good business sense or even general business knowledge is really all that is needed to make you a great project manager.

The Secret of Successful Project Managers Lies Within the Right Mindset

Finally, as we have reviewed above, there are a handful of tips, tricks, and tools available to help you operate like a project manager—even if you aren’t one.

One tool that is easy to learn, adopt, and implement is Rindle. Rindle is a visual project management tool that makes keeping track of projects, tasks, and everything that comes with project management easy to understand and digest, and straight forward.

Give Rindle a try today and take your successful PM-hood to the next level.