I met recently with a colleague who was starting out in a new job. She asked for some suggestions about how to approach a new role and relationships. In the course of our discussion, we covered a lot of ground and some essential elements of any new start, which also apply to any ongoing role.
Remember your strengths and build on them. tend to ignore our strengths, treating them with benign neglect instead of nurturing and improving them. Our strengths need attention and training to keep them that way. Just like regular training to maintain muscles that are already strong takes less effort than building up those muscles, effort put into maintaining strengths can be more efficient that working on overcoming weaknesses.
Acknowledge your weaknesses and work on them. Not that we should ignore weaknesses – just don’t obsess about them, or make them bigger than they really are. Identify some concrete action to take to address areas for improvement, wherever possible using your strengths to address or correct things. Don’t see weakness pets as threats – see them as opportunities to grow and improve.
Take criticism on board and use it to improve. This is true for you and for your project. When you get feedback of any kind, learn from it – even if what you learn is who you can trust and who you have to watch. Most criticism has some truth to it, so use that to improve. Like most things, “take the best, leave the rest.”
Don’t make promises that you can’t keep (and definitely don’t make promises on behalf of others). Especially when you are in a new role, building relationships and trust with your team is critical to being effectiveand to implementing and addressing change. If you say you’re going to do something, do it – and so don’t commit to something you can’t do. If you are going to miss a deadline tell those affected well in advance and what you’re going to do about it. Also, acknowledge when you screw up – everyone (and I mean EVERYONE) messes up, but you can minimize the impact and memory of your mistakes by handling them directly, gracefully and professionally.
Your most important relationships are your boss and your sponsor. These are the ones you need to be closest to – you don’t have to be friends, but you have to be on the same page. If nothing else they have a vested interest in your success, as they are the ones that hired you. More importantly, you are their emissary in the project, so you have to represent them well – you can’t do that if you don’t know their goals. Get to know what’s important to them.
Remember that influence is more effective than authority. As a project manager, you rarely have explicit authority (see above for importance of knowing those who do have the authority). With influence, you can affect change and advance project objectives through the principles of persuasion (liking, reciprocity, social proof/scarcity, consistency/transparency, credibility). As the person at the nexus of all project information, you are uniquely positioned to influence direction and work, so make the most of that.
Always say thank you and acknowledge the contributions of others. Even for the smallest thing, even for criticism, always say thank you. Say it when you ask for something, say it when you get it. But more importantly – mean it: anyone contributing to your project or your development is helping you, even if they don’t mean to be.
Take care of yourself. You can’t do a good job for yourself or your project if you don’t spend some time on self-care. Document and celebrate your successes however small and be mindful of your own mindset and feelings. Don’t be overly harsh (or overly generous) with yourself. Find a mentor/coach/someone who can help you with honest, thoughtful questions and feedback. And every now and then, take a day off and get away from it all.
There’s no magic formula to making a success of a new job, or any job for that matter. Take what works for you, and learn from your own experiences to make your own success.
UPDATE (Dec 2015): read more about this topic in a new e-book, "What I Wish I Knew When I Started My Career", The book is only $5 for CARA members ($8 for non-members) and is available here.
I work often with people wanting to transition into or advance in project management, who ask me about this classic conundrum: how to get experience when you need experience to get a job. A recent article in Forbes Magazine provides some good tips for newbies, but these apply to oldies as well – ways to keep up connections and maintain diversity and vitality in your career.
Do something. For those looking for experience, this means volunteering or interning – working and taking part to get that experience. Those in a related position but looking to transition might look for opportunities to take on management tasks within their current role; yes, that means doing more work than what you’re paid to do, but, similar to volunteering or interning, is a necessary step to get that experience. For the experienced person, this also means volunteering: as a trainer, a mentor, a speaker, some way of sharing your experience and giving back. Regardless of your career status, staying active in the field beyond your day-to-day work shows employers – both current and potential – that you have the drive and potential to contribute and to learn.
Get results. Stepping off the regular path sometimes takes your forward – or perhaps just in a new direction with great rewards. As we advance in our careers, it is still important to occasionally try something a bit different to be sure that you can still show that you can get stuff done. It’s also important to keep current on how things get done, by learning a new-to-you skill – show that you can still do that, and that you are still focused on getting results.
Manage your mindset. It is important to show confidence in what you can do, especially if needing to overcome a shortfall in experience or expertise. While doing this, take care not to verge into bragging (bad) or embellishment (worse). Find a balance between confidence and humility that shows a can-do attitude with the capacity to learn new things. While the inexperienced person should take care not to settle for something just to get started, the experienced person should guard against holding out too long or demanding too much – giving the impression that the position is beneath you is a sure-fire way to lose an offer before you get it.
Focus on business development. This is important regardless of your career stage. Know the business of the company or organization and show that you had and can contributed in some way to that. This is essential both during recruiting and in the first few months in a new position or role. Show the interviewer or your new boss that you get it – you know what’s important to the company and you do add value.
Wherever we are in our careers, there are always new things to learn, and areas where we lack knowledge and experience. Continuous development – both getting experience (training and volunteering), and giving back to the field (training and mentoring) – combined with a good attitude and focus, can keep your career dynamic, engaging and rewarding.
UPDATE (Nov 2015): read more about this topic in a new e-book, "20 Things I Wish Job Candidates Knew", The book is only $5 for CARA members ($8 for non-members) and is available here.
Who is Robyn?
My career as a research project manager is rewarding, dynamic, challenging, and fun. I'm looking forward to sharing my knowledge and experience in communication, organization, and common sense approaches in research management and leadership, and to enabling others to learn and grow in this exciting career.