Project Managers - What do you do all day?

How often do you get a question like that from a friend or a family member, "What is it you do again?" or " What do you do when you go to work daddy?".  If you say "I am a project manager" these days it will fill their heads with visions of The Apprentice TV Show candidates shouting "I am the PM do as I say!", or a man in a hard hat talking to Kevin McCloud on Grand Designs about something is late.

I do not have a solution to this dilemma and there are probably a hundred blog posts talks about how to talk to people about being a Project Manager. A quick google for " explaining what a project manager does" presents details of roles and responsibilities not what happens.

What I have got is something, whilst dramatised is a little insight into a possible day of a project manager. Last night I watch the film called Locke starring Tom Hardy, now I don't want to give away the plot as you may want to watch it, and I do recommend watching it as it is an enjoyable film.  

Part through the film a thought crossed my mind and I thought this is a really good view of a project managers day, My wife almost a few seconds later turned to me and said " He reminds me of you" and I thought "I'll take that, I have been working out a bit", then she explained the character, not the actor, may I need to hit the gym more.  

To me, his role in the film was directing a major project, with a key milestone about to happen.  Whilst dramatised, the events he has to deal with are the same kind of things I have dealt with at varying point through my 20 year career in project management and you see him morph to deal with each situation

It is clear that the character is passionate about the project and understands the importance of this key milestone and wants to make sure it is perfect. It is a great demonstration in stakeholder communications and adaptation to the listeners need.  

  • with his staff, sometimes he is very directive, almost shouting at them and then in the next sentence he eloquently paints a grand vision of the final outcome of the project and how the current piece of the puzzle is key to final success. He also praises the team when they deserve it.  From these actions, he creates loyalty that has team members going that extra mile that needed to hit the milestone.
  • with his management, he is straight and to the point and defiant when he needs to be. 
  • With officials, he polite and pleads almost begging and leverages his previous good relationships with them

Throughout he is using his relationships and network to help get the job done.  He knows enough detail about the project to anticipate the issues that may occur and looks to make sure they are ready.  When things turn out not to be in place, he has to think on his feet and uses his experience and network fix the problem at short notice.

All this project delivery is done against the background of some serious personal difficulties, which I know all of us face too.  Sometimes its normal run of the mill things like getting back home for the school run on time or date night, sometimes its more serious, but there is always something going on in parallel to that important part of the project that adds to the tension between the role and life.  

I believe as PMs we have to invest emotionally into our projects, otherwise, we would not succeed, and when the brown stuff hits the fan if we are not invested we would no be able to do the things needed to move the project forward. I one scene Hardy is banging his steering wheel in frustration I know I have done the same, but you move through the frustration to a solution and that's what we do.

So next time you are asked by someone over 15 "What do you do all day?" tell them to watch Locke which will show them a good idea of the kind of things you have to do at certain times during your project but was a little drama added.

To give you an update on the book, I am coming to the final steps of finishing off the first draft. This puts my end of December target still achievable but tight especially with lots of things going on in life with the run-up to Christmas about to kick in.

I've got a few things to cut out a few things and tidy up a bit, then it will be tidying up the formatting.  One I have done that I will be looking out for some advanced readers,  who will give me honest feedback and constructive criticism. If anyone out there who would like to be part of that team then click  the link below to sign to my mailing list and you'll get an invite to become part of the advanced reader team.

Thanks for reading this far.


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