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Good to great: The project manager’s guide

Two diamonds juxtaposed–one uncut and one refined.

There is a serious misconception that all project managers are just paper-pushers. While this might be true about some, it’s far from reality for the good ones. In fact, a good project manager can be the determining factor in the success of the creative work, the sanity of the creative team, and the satisfaction of the client.

Becoming a great project manager doesn’t happen overnight — and it’s not a skill you can exactly tick off as “complete.” There’s always room for growth. Here are three areas of expertise that separate the great from the mediocre.

1. Engaging with the work

The best project managers will use review periods as an opportunity to ensure the content and creative strategy tie back to client needs and requests. It’s quite a balancing act. The project manager has to confirm the client’s deliverable needs are met and catch any crucial details that were missed, and also understand the creative team’s vision and determine where it makes sense to evolve the client’s requests.

When working with the creative team, it is paramount that the project manager has an opinion of the content — especially when it relates to client feedback. Sometimes, the creative team can get so caught up in making an idea work that they lose sight of what the client asked for. The project manager may need to have hard conversations about reworking a deliverable, but it is necessary if the team wants to present something in line with the client’s needs.

2. Playing the role of diplomat

When project managers deliver projects and feedback to the client, they are also responsible for managing the conversations that unfold in the wake of the deliverables. This is where it really matters to understand both the client’s and creative team’s communication styles and thought processes.

If the creative team has a recommendation different from the client’s request, the project manager is responsible for facilitating that discussion internally before delivering that feedback to the client. From there, project managers have to communicate that this feedback is not off-the-cuff, but rather the result of deeper collaboration and consultation internally. Clients don’t always understand what goes on behind the scenes of their projects, so it’s essential that the project manager guide them through the feedback carefully.

3. Channeling the audience’s perspective

Not being as close to the deliverables as the creative team or client, project managers can often provide valuable insight. Their intimate knowledge of the project, keen understanding of the client, and distance from the creative allow them to see all sides in a way the client and creative team often can’t.

Having a more objective view of the work helps project managers provide real-time feedback to the creative team and present alternative solutions to the client when necessary. It also gets the project manager proactively involved in the creative process, rather than be purely organizational and reactionary. At Thinkso, we believe the wisest agencies are the ones that task project managers to really drive and lead the projects in these ways — and have structured our own team this way. Why? It’s kind of a no-brainer: why wouldn’t you want a project manager to be a problem solver and strategic thinker — traits that can really move and elevate the creative process — in addition to being organized? It creates the most efficiency for clients, and it frees up the creative team to do what they do best.