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.
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