News & Views

The many surprising hats of project management

A stack of three hats rests next to a whistle and magnifying glass.

In the seven years I have worked as a project manager, I’ve learned that this job requires wearing many hats. Some are expected, like workflow organization, critical thinking, and clear communication. But others are skills that, initially, I didn’t think I’d be using at all. If you’re considering a career in creative project management, here are three less obvious skills you will likely need:

1. Mediation
It’s no surprise that project management involves working with other people, but project managers are not solely passing information from one person to another. They are often there to manage conflict between team members, internal and external, as well.

Project conflict is almost inevitable. It can occur as a result of many different things: lack of clarity in roles or responsibilities, lack of project knowledge or proper communication, differences in opinion or priorities, etc. A project manager needs to be able to quickly identify a project conflict when it first occurs; they also need to take the appropriate steps to monitor and resolve it so it doesn’t turn into a larger, ongoing problem. More often than not, your team will look to you for some sort of compromise or direction.

2. Research
A great project manager knows the ins and outs of every project they touch. That means knowing how to move teammates and clients forward, every step of a project. And that requires doing your research.

For every account I’m on, I research my client’s business and industry to gain a better understanding of their services, objectives, and ultimately marketing goals. I find that understanding what they do and why makes managing their account much easier — and makes me a more effective and valuable resource. The more research I do on both our production processes and the client’s needs, the more confident I feel providing information and direction whenever writers, designers, vendors, and clients come to me with questions.

3. Pushing back
As a project manager, it’s my job to know when to press pause or raise a flag if the project deviates from strategy or scope and, thus, needs course correcting.

Sometimes, that means telling my team of strategists, writers, and designers, “we can’t add more time without going over budget” or “this doesn’t make sense with the strategy we set.” While all members of the creative team are experts in their disciplines — and really good at what they do — a good project manager still makes sure the work aligns with the stated project objectives, as well as the client’s strategic and logistical requests.

Pushing back also applies to clients. At Thinkso, we have a mantra: “we are advisers, not just implementers.” Clients are certainly the subject matter experts on their company and industry. However, that doesn’t mean a project manager should automatically implement a client request without giving it thought and discussing with the wider team how to move forward. I’ve had many instances where, after a confab with my team, I’ve said to a client, “we wouldn’t recommend this approach because it will be very costly to you” or “we wouldn’t recommend posting on this platform because that’s not where your audience is.” Our clients appreciate this honest advisory and know that we will implement their final decision, whatever it is.

These three unexpected project management skills have something in common: they are all part of working in our clients’ best interests — another of our mantras and a hallmark of a great project manager.