This past weekend, I celebrated my 10-year anniversary of being a project manager. Here are the 10 tips I'd recommend for my 10 years in the project management profession:
Learn. Particularly early in your career, take advantage of as many webinars, blogs, books, and training courses as you possibly can. You should be a sponge that soaks up knowledge from every corner. If your company is willing to fund your studies, even better. Take advantage of it. Not using this benefit is like taking a pay cut. As I mentioned in my last post, make the case with your manager about why you should be funded for a particular training or conference, and then go do it! Be sure to check out my 7 tips for making the most of PM trainings before you do.
Anticipate. Do whatever someone asks of you. Then, imagine what they'll ask you to do next, and do it. Rinse. Repeat. Watch The Devil Wears Prada if you need a little inspiration.
Volunteer. I don't just mean for pro bono activities. I mean, volunteer at work. I had an opportunity about five years ago to get involved with contract and financial management processes on my team. As a junior staff member, I was elated at the prospect of getting hands-on experience in an area I knew nothing about but realized would be critical to my future job duties. I remember racing back to my desk after the call for volunteers went out, hoping I'd be the first person to get my message through. Guess what? No one else applied! I was dumbfounded. Why would you turn down free experience? Volunteering for stretch assignments is the best way to further on-the-job learning.
Network. Early in my career, I went to every networking happy hour, work social event, and brownbag lunch that I could. Put yourself out there. Even if you're an introverted wallflower, these events are good opportunities to expose yourself to new and interesting topics. You don't have to be the life of the party or meet a ton of people. Make it your goal to meet someone new once a month. You never know when that connection can come in handy--whether for a future client referral, job opportunity, or speaking engagement. If these events are internal to your team, don't underestimate the importance of showing your face so people don't forget you or what you do.
Consult. Don't forget to network with your peers as well! People always advise you to get a mentor in these types of lists. That's probably a good idea too, but sometimes mentoring can be awkward or feel like a "check the box" company-mandated exercise. Especially early in my career, networking with peers helped me stay grounded, gave me fresh perspective on how to deal with issues I was facing, and improved my emotional support network when things went south at the office. Your boss will appreciate that you turned to your peers to problem solve before going to them with an issue you could have easily resolved yourselves.
Present. Want to jump into the deep end of the pool? Learn how to swim first. Practice your public speaking skills through internal staff meetings or by signing up for a brownbag presentation. In addition to honing your public speaking skills, presenting on a topic of your choice gives you valuable leadership exposure in a controlled setting where you get to be the author of your own story. If you suspect the narrative may be less than stellar, this is your chance to rewrite the ending.
Disagree. See something, say something. Just because someone is senior to you doesn’t mean they know everything. That’s why we have teams. Ask the question. At the worst, you’ll be incorrect, will learn something, and your boss will recognize your willingness to take initiative. At best, you’ll inject some fresh, and potentially lucrative, ideas into the mix.
Conduct yourself with integrity. Situations will arise in your career where you could very easily do the wrong thing. Like failing to give someone feedback that they need to hear. Or avoiding telling the client about the error you saw in your report. Sometimes, sweeping something under the rug may seem like the easiest course of action. But it never is. Deal with the issue now, before it becomes a much bigger problem later on. Getting the small stuff right will help you prepare for when the big stuff goes wrong.
Delegate. As you advance in your career, ask yourself if someone else would benefit from what you are doing. If so, show them how to do it and, then, work with them to set up a repeatable process so that they can do it instead of you. Work yourself out of a job so you have the opportunity to decide what your next job will be. Trust me, there will always be something for you to do. At minimum, you should have a backup in case (heaven forbid!) you decide to take the day off.
Smile. If you’re a Debbie Downer and stressed out all the time, you’ll give off a vibe that you can’t handle yourself, and your colleagues will avoid you. Remember the airplane test—ask yourself if your colleagues would want to be stuck traveling with you. If the answer is no, figure out how you can get enjoyment out of your job. Or find another one.