Personality clashes, department priorities, strained or limited resources, differing communication styles—these are just some of the many factors that make up “people management.” To be a good project leader, you have to be a good people manager. That means avoiding pitfalls and management mistakes that you can see coming a mile away.
Project management has a lot of moving parts and navigating the complexities of the human condition is one of them. Even if you excel in your field, you may be thrown a curve ball in the form of an unruly colleague, client, or employee.
Even usually-harmonious groups will clash when it comes to managing priorities and expectations. For example: Your digital marketing team might have an innovative paid campaign idea, while your sales team might be worried more about the budget and the cost of something untested.
Management mistakes come about not because you are an inept leader but simply because the ebb and flow of personalities will sometimes cause strife. This is a normal part of any workplace. Instead of turning a blind eye to problems when they arise, be prepared for these common leadership mistakes and know how to avoid them.
Management Mistake #1—You’re resistant to feedback.
Solution: listen closely and ask questions.
You don’t have to accept every idea at face value, but there are many ways to listen well to show that the person behind it has value. Just at least engage with it. Ask questions. Show that you have heard their concerns. Offer compromises. Being open to feedback does not mean that you have to bend to it every time. The important part is that you let the people you manage know that their concerns are being heard and that you will take appropriate action if need be.
When someone approaches you with feedback, the absolute worst thing you can do is shut the conversation down. Instead, ask them what made them come to their conclusion. Ask for concrete examples. Always dig deeper to see if the two of you can work out an actionable and acceptable conclusion.
As the old saying goes: A tree that doesn’t bend, breaks. A good manager knows this and doesn’t impede change when it may be in the best interests of the company, project, or group.
Management Mistake #2—You can’t seem to enforce consistent organization.
Solution: take advantage of tools.
I’ve found that using a project management or collaboration software can really take the burden of cumbersome administrative work off everyone’s shoulders.
A common people management mistake is assuming that others will just “figure it out” and get with the flow. It takes a lot of time, memory, and organization skills for your teams to stay on top of tasks—so find a tool that your team likes, and exploit its features like conversations, file sharing, and automatic updates to the fullest.
There’s no single right tool, but here are a few great options:
1. Standuply, which is like a digital assistant in Slack that helps you automate some agile processes among your team.
2. Monday.com, an award-winning and visually intuitive tool that helps you plan, track and collaborate on projects of all kinds.
3. Mind map and brainstorming tools like Milanote are great for organizing ideas, writing briefs, and collaborating on design ideas.
You might have a particular teammate in mind when you are considering whom this software might be able to help. In reality, it’s going to help everyone. Including yourself. Giving people a quick and easy way to log organizational data and quickly see and sort the results will make you look like a management genius.
Management Mistake #3—The “Big Personality” is dominating the room.
Solution: empathize and try to understand why you feel at odds with them.
We all know what “big personality” really means: challenging, loud, gossipy, domineering, and maybe some coarser words that I won’t include here. Every office has one and the worst thing management can do is clash with them repeatedly in order to try and assert dominance. Rather than asserting dominance, this just comes across as petty and can aggravate already tense situations.
Yes, this person talks over you and others. Yes, this person stirs the pot when tempers boil. Yes, this person thinks they’re always right. But as a manager, your job is to remain cool as a cucumber under pressure. You will never be able to “manage” them into a new personality. You are just going to have to work with what you’ve got.
Try to be empathetic. See where the person is coming from and set boundaries that reflect everyone’s best interests. Address the problematic traits individually instead of trying to tackle the whole problem all at once. And no matter what, keep your cool and stay polite. Be the bigger person.
Management Mistake #4—There’s no talk of “big picture” among different departments, people, and teams.
Solution: get started with project portfolio management.
If each project is a close-up snapshot of your organization and project management software and strategies are one step back from that (say, a more mid-level view), then project portfolio management (PPM) is an even bigger step back. This is the “big picture,” the assortment of projects and programs that you have on the go at any given time within your company.
Blocking people from the big picture is an easy management mistake to make. Sometimes you are trying to compartmentalize departments so that people aren’t stepping on one another’s toes. More often, you simply don’t have the time to have those big picture strategy discussions.
But with advanced in project management technology, an estimated 80% of a PM’s current daily tasks will disappear—more than ever, project manager’s will play a more strategic role. Relieved from many manual tasks, I predict that managers, among many other professionals, will play a bigger part in carrying the vision of a project and conveying the big picture strategy to the team.
It might be time to reconsider how you are tackling knowledge sharing and project portfolio management. When people understand more, they can do more.
A tip learned from my experience: Let someone else do the heavy lifting for you and invest in a good PPM suite to give your organization a complete view of each project’s KPIs like budget, schedule and delays, spend, and more.
Management Mistake #5—You’re managing other people’s small problems—constantly.
Solution: teach your team to fish, and then let them.
It’s hard to take a step back and trust that other people can figure things out—but this why things like project plans and QA departments even exist in the first place. Learn to create the structure your teams need to solve problems on their own, and then step back and let them do it!
You aren’t doing yourself, the team, or the project any favors by being a helicopter manager. Furthermore, the people you manage won’t learn how to problem-solve if you let them continuously lean on you for every little thing. Set some boundaries and stick to them. Be their cheerleader, not their crutch.
Remember that you can’t just take your hands off the wheel—you have to set your teams up to manage themselves first. Provide a well-written and updated that they can easily access. And remember to keep a communication plan up to date so they can easily reach out to the right people whenever they need to.
Management Mistake #6—You focus only on what’s being said—and your relationships are suffering as a result.
Solution: forget what’s being said—focus instead on how it is said.
Management experts have confirmed time and time again that quality of communication is a key success metric for any project. If there’s anything to focus on in order to improve a project, it’s communication.
It looks like our workplaces could use an improvement, too, given that over a third of employees say that they’re extremely dissatisfied with the communication they experience at work.
It’s very easy to fall into the trap of fixating on the details—the scope, the action item, the deliverable, the deadline, the email, the upcoming launch—without giving the necessary attention to how all of these conversations are happening.
Above all, we are humans—we are tired after lunch, worried about what someone might think, fearful that someone might figure out that we don’t really know what we’re doing. This is unavoidable, so it’s important to plan to address not only the logistical parts of a conversation but also the emotional side. It matters less what you say—it matters far more how you say it.
People management is never going to be a walk in the park. You can at least be a step ahead of the rest by avoiding the above project management mistakes.
Be on the lookout for messy management missteps so that you can sidestep them before they become a big problem.
Cut out things like stubbornness, disorganization, and drama so that you can focus on things that can make you a better, stronger, and smarter team.