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Nov 26, 2014 by Patrick Icasas in Project Management 101 & Tools

4 Hard Lessons I Learned as a New Project Manager

4 Hard Lessons I Learned as a New Project Manager

4 Hard Lessons I Learned as a New Project ManagerI 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?

Image credit, Flickr, Alan Clark

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Patrick Icasas

Patrick Icasas is a former marketing project manager with 7 years of marketing and PR agency experience, managing creative projects for brands such as Nokia, Verizon Wireless, and Adobe. He now spends his time helping people make the most out of their project management software and entertaining his 5 year old daughter.