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.
A colleague asked me to write about a recent article in the National Post, on the topic of research integrity and the responsible conduct of research. Not being a researcher or a doctor, my opinions and experience are limited to the field in which I work – academic research in various -omics, dipping a toe into translational research in healthcare – and my role therein, as project manager. That role has allowed me to interact with researchers in many areas, as well as with many professors, doctors, institutions, funders, students, contractors and other managers and administrators. And so, what do I think about researchers caught out like the ones profiled above?
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.