Does your team suffer from PMT — project management tension?

Too many teams suffer from project management tension. Some project managers (PMs) are absolute experts in creating workplace hell and the awful thing is, they were designated to be in charge when they couldn’t organise a kindergarten picnic.

Seven undesirable project manager characteristics?

The list of what makes a PM bad is almost endless. Generally s/he is:

  1. Disorganised — they may be in charge but the chaos just keeps compounding;
  1. Defensive — you can’t tell this person anything without them snapping irritably;
  1. Refuses to acknowledge — they won’t admit ignorance/lack of experience – which can prove disastrous on occasion;
  1. Too close to the boss (or owner) — they are in their corner (sometimes for nepotism reasons) and no one can question;
  1. A poor communicator — because you’re supposed to read their mind, aren’t you?
  1. Bossy — they are micro managing and unduly high-handed, perhaps owing to the job title they most certainly do not deserve. These ones are great at engendering PMT; and
  1. Incompetent — they have you and everyone else wondering which parallel universe the person/s who made the appointment might be living in.

Strategies for you to manage the situation

If you’re reporting to a lousy PM, there are some things you can do (instead of committing career hara kiri or becoming a victim complainer):

  • Make yourself and your expertise indispensable. Yes, the PM might well take the credit for your sweat equity, but you’re not obliged to work for them forever, and really, you want things to be done properly, don’t you? Don’t be obvious where they’ve erred; make tactful, constructive suggestions and try to anticipate snafus before they happen;
  • Always put your concerns on the record. This could be in meeting minutes, or an email list of actions or issues. Stick to facts and lists rather than accusations and essays. Do not add blame!
  • List concerns or draw up a risk matrix for the team. If you’re concerned about the direction in which a project’s heading, analyse the fullest range of scenarios you can think of, and the risks/benefits attached (without in any way pointing the finger at certain guilty parties). This exercise is politically risky, but try to do it with the involvement of key people, preferably in open meetings with the PM, and again do it with care (because a bad PM will certainly possess at least one or more of the above traits).

If you’re the one in charge of a less-than-exemplary PM, you need to utilise a mix of carrots and sticks:

  • Be clear about a project’s targets, timelines, deliverables and most of all your expectations of how staff should be managed and motivated (for example, the PM must minimise PMT);
  • Provide the PM with assistance, couched with a friendly smile, plus a touch of steel when appropriate (for example, let them know you’re the one they report to);
  • Be ready with discreet pertinent guidance. Remember that some PMs are nervous about screwing up and may over-compensate in their approach to getting tasks done. The occasional plain-speaking reminder that people are not there to be pushed around, even when deadlines are looming, must be said — in a helpful way;
  • Have someone ready to step in, and sooner rather than later, if the PMT is at boiling point.

If you want a great team that delivers projects to a high standard without PMT, make sure communication channels are ALWAYS open and everyone is aligned and happy with the way the team is working.

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