As a project leadership coach I often come across project managers who feel that they are not good enough at what they do. Feeling that they will be “found out”, that the project will fail and that they will be fired because of incompetence is – unfortunately – more common than you might think.
There is nothing wrong with being aware of risks and being concerned about the delivery of the project. But it’s unhealthy to worry to the point where it affects our confidence.
More often than not the project manager’s feeling of inadequacy isn’t rooted in incompetence. It’s linked to an underlying lack of self-esteem.
Of course, there will always be certain PM techniques that we can get better at, but without a strong self-belief project managers will have a tendency to doubt their professional abilities.
But how can you begin to strengthen your belief in yourself and your project?
Review your project
At a practical level it’s important that your project is properly defined, that your team in motivated and that your project plans are adequate. Don’t feel that it’s your role to have all the answers.
Your team members are there to support you. Discuss with them how you will be working together to deliver the project. Make reference to deliverables, procedures, roles and responsibilities and to team behaviours.
Similarly, don’t set out to plan the project all on your own. I’ve talked and written about the benefits of collaborative planning for a long time. Collaboration creates buy-in and commitment from the team and produces a better plan than if you were to create it on your own.
You should also run regular risk management workshops where the team shares their concerns and puts in place mitigating actions.
If you’re still worried that you have missed something out, ask one of your peers to review your artefacts and to sit in on some of your meetings.
You might also benefit from regular conversations with a mentor. Choose someone who works in the same organisation, or industry, and who has more experience than you.
A mentor should be calm and measured. She should be able to listen to your concerns and give you advice in areas where you are unsure how to progress.
As much as you can make improvements to the way you set up and run your project, the real work in improving your self-confidence is internal. Doubting in your abilities is rooted in the way you think and feel about yourself. In most cases, project managers are judging themselves unfairly.
I suggest that you ask a few of your managers, peers and team members for feedback about what they feel you are doing really well. Choose people whose opinion you respect.
You can ask: “From your point of view what do you feel my strengths are?” Also ask them to highlight one thing they believe you could improve on. Asking these two questions should give you a good reality check.
It will show you that although you aren’t perfect (none of us are!) you have real strengths in the area of project management.
Where the feedback highlights that there is something you need to improve on, take action to read books, go on a course or work with a coach to improve your skills. Many people are afraid to ask for feedback. They worry that it will reveal something terrible about them. But the doomsday scenario rarely happens. More often than not those who ask for feedback come away feeling uplifted and surprised about the positive feedback they have received.
Feel your strengths
External feedback and validation is a good starting point for being reminded of what you are doing well, but you also need to do the internal work to improve your self-belief.
I suggest that you brainstorm all the things that you feel you are good at. Write anything down that comes to mind, small items as well as big ones. Perhaps you are a really good listener, good at analysing data or good at building relationships with team members. Give yourself credit for it and capture it on paper.
Also make a note of your past achievements. Don’t just think about them. Feel them in your body as you review all the projects you have delivered to date. Acknowledging your strengths and achievements is the first step in lighting up your internal sun.
You can further strengthen your self-esteem – and the glow inside you – by starting every single day by reminding yourself of your strengths. Create a morning ritual before you leave the house.
You can either sit in stillness for a moment or read out some affirmations: “I’m a diligent project manager with a good team spirit. I know that my peers appreciate my work.” Choose the words that resonate with you and that make you feel strong in your body.
My final thought is that many project managers operate at the edge of their comfort zone. This can be a good thing because it means that we are learning. If we were totally comfortable in our roles, we would not be growing.
No one will ever be in total control of a project, and that’s ok. As project managers our job is to strengthen the project, to strengthen our internal sun and thereafter to embrace uncertainty. So go on dear project manager: continue all the good work you are doing and don’t be afraid to admit that you don’t have all the answers.
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