Fig. 17 A Guide for Project Managers

How I Became a Project Manager

A look back on the lessons I've learned a year later from transitioning to a Digital Project Manager.

Written by Carla Hale September 27, 2016

Perspective is an amazing gift. A year ago, I made a transition in my career and joined The Scenery as a project manager and partner. Little did I know how much I would learn and change, both professionally and personally. Here’s a recap of this fantastic, crazy journey.

The De Facto Project Manager

Many small agencies combine Account Managers and Project Managers into one role. But when we boil it down, there are actually competing goals between the two. Yes, both look out for clients, budgets, timelines, etc., but there is so much more nuance than these simple definitions. This is the camp I sat in for almost 10 years. As a former account person, a lot of project management tasks fell into my lap, and now I can see this very essential work got the short end of the stick.

Account people have to understand their client’s business, craft and sell solutions to them, and ensure that those solutions are delivered, no matter what. My dedication was just for my clients. I didn’t have much empathy for the designers and developers I was working with - I just wanted the thing done and on-time and “don’t come at me with the details, just figure it out.” Sure, I scheduled tasks and used project management software, but only because I had to.

I wasn’t approaching it with the consideration it deserved. This caused incredible frustration for the team, and ultimately the client. I continued to see these patterns emerge and began to dedicate a lot of my focus to the details - the things that keep PMs up at night.

After years of this work, I began to fall out of love and began to have a slight identity crisis. If I wasn’t tied to the solutions we were delivering to clients, what did I care about?

(Insert a couple weeks of freaking out.)

Back to Basics

Just as I would have advised any client, I sat down to create my own mission and vision and use that as a roadmap to decide what my next move would be. I quickly realized that everything important to me came down to relationships: for clients and internal teams. My favorite moments of my career had nothing to do with the results, but rather in understanding what it took for these two groups of people to work well together.

It was around this time that I joined The Scenery.

Skills, to the Next Level

A lot of the skills I’ve honed over the years have made me good at what I do - I can’t deny them, only embrace them. But on the flipside, there were many other skills I needed to develop, and quick. Here are some of the big lessons I’ve learned this past year:

  • There is no ego in project management. Pride has to be checked at the door to ensure the project is upheld, even if what we thought was right is now wrong. We have to care more about getting it right than looking good.
  • The project is king. Project managers are serving the project before anyone else. We must protect and support it above clients and internal team members alike. We must remain neutral and ask ourselves, “What is best for the project?”
  • We are people centric. We are executing very thoughtful work, and we must have a high level of emotional intelligence and empathy for our teammates and clients. This seems dichotomous to the point above, but I assure you it is not. This is a “both/and” situation, not an “either/or”.
  • We’re organized. We must understand and effectively communicate the business goals, just like any other project team member. Instead of only operating in the weeds of the day-to-day, we must let the big-picture of the project drive our approach.
  • We are a shield. Earlier this year, Andy from our team said that statement to me and it’s stuck with me ever since. We’re not micromanagers who just tell our team what to do; we remove the obstacles that get in their way.
  • We are our team’s greatest asset. We take charge, but lead by influence instead of authority. We provide excitement and motivation, never allowing our team to feel fearful or indifferent about a project.

There are many other lessons I (and our team) have learned this year about project management. Someday I hope to share with you all about the pain points of finding the right PM software, methodologies, and more that we’ve gone through. At the end of the day, project management isn’t about all of the technical pieces – it’s the soft-skilled, human side that can make or break a project.