A key challenge of being a project manager is having the responsibility of leading a team to goals but not have authority over those team members. Gaining respect and support of the team is critical to a project manager's success. The actual tactical responsibilities of project managers typically come easy to them. The softer side of the role can be a challenge for some. Both are equally important skills in getting the job done.

Like most project managers, I'm a pretty task-driven person. I'm in motion during most of my day. So knowing that it's important to sit back and observe--to take notice of our work environment and teammate behavior--kinda makes me squirm in my chair. But I have realized across the course of my career that getting to know my teammates and how they prefer to work will not only make a big difference in how I am perceived, it also made it a little easier to influence staff that I didn't actually manage.

Here are the kind of behaviors and preferences I am referring to:

  • Do they like to communicate face to face or send emails?
  • Do they roll with the changes or need predictability?
  • Do they use every piece of office furniture to barricade their workspace or keep it open and inviting?
  • Do they think meetings are a waste of time or use them to get decisions made?
  • When are they most productive--and least productive?

Once project managers get to know their team better and understand some of their preferences, what should they do with that? Adapt, Adapt, Adapt. Visit the art director in person that likes in-person conversation; email the writer that avoids the group interaction; take the extra time to review and explain why revisions are necessary to the production artist that spent hours perfecting the layout. These small behavior changes show your teammates that you understand and respect their preferences. It also shows that you know when and how to flex the process to accomplish the task.

Combining a flexible process with our institutional knowledge and project management skills allow us to motivate people, negotiate situations and lead our team without it feeling like we are dragging them along.