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4 Hard Lessons I Learned as a New Project Manager


I became a project manager at a digital marketing agency fairly early on in my career, but I didn′t go through any preparatory courses or anything like that. It was just my second job out of school. I didn′t know much about the business world yet, and even less about project management.

My boss saw potential in me, and trusted me to quickly grasp the real-life lessons that′d get thrown my way. And hard lessons they were. Lessons like:

Rank doesn′t automatically mean respect

I  kinda  new this from an employee perspective, but it wasn′t until I became a project manager that I appreciated how hard it is to gain (and keep) your team′s respect. Don′t get me wrong: people would follow instructions and stay polite. But I was quickly able to tell those who trusted my judgment and respected me as a leader from those who paid me lip service. It wasn′t until I cut my teeth on actual projects and demonstrated that I wasn′t a total basket-case that I won over the more  skeptical  members of my team.

There is no “warm up period” 

Our agency had demanding timelines and was extremely short-staffed. I didn′t have the luxury of training time or test projects. Every project I worked on was real, with running deadlines and concrete consequences. The only slack people gave me was in answering my questions or coaching me through an email. I had to learn how to pick things up fast, and not to dwell on each  mistake.

Learn. Constantly.

I was pretty much a wet-behind-the-ears project manager when I started. I had some knowledge of graphic design and video production, but web development was a complete mystery. I didn′t know how long it took to build a website or how one worked. And I had to  learn  these things in order to manage projects effectively.

So began my web development crash course. I didn′t have time to read any textbooks, but I′d constantly look over my web developer′s shoulder and ask him questions. It annoyed him a couple of times, but I think we both knew that it was for the team′s benefit that I know as much as I could. And as more new trends popped up””email marketing, Flash, streaming video””my colleagues and I had to be in a constant state of learning.

Be prepared to do everything. Because you will.

It′s a good thing I learned so much, because the job pretty much required getting my hands dirty (so to speak). Clients didn′t care if developers got sick. If there was a deadline, that stuff needed to be in their hands promptly. Being short-staffed was no excuse for missing a deadline. At the most basic, I needed to know how to apply edits like swapping out links and images. I also had to learn my way around the various graphic design programs like Photoshop and InDesign, just to make sure I could keep up with my deadlines. I certainly hadn′t been expecting that when I signed up!

I was able to keep up with the pressure and stress, largely because I admitted my shortcomings and opened myself up to learning new things. Had I remained closed and aloof, the job would′ve been impossible.

What lessons did you learn when you first started as a project manager?


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