You have just started your DPM career. You have completed your studies at University, or finished a beginner’s project management course, you may have come from a different industry completely. You are building your practical project management experience and you have just started to acquire a knowledge of web design and development. Your first assignment is to simultaneously manage two projects, one from scratch and the other you have inherited halfway through the project life cycle. (True story, this is how my career started!)
Overwhelmed by the enormity of the task, and not really knowing what you are doing, you are expected to manage and lead the team to a successful project outcome. To make it more interesting, this is still in your 3-month probationary period!
Here are my 5 top tips for building up the resilience from the start and throughout your career…
Resilience needs to be built on a solid and robust foundation. Early on you will find that dealing with people all the time can quite literally drain you, especially if you are trying to navigate and make sense of challenging personality types. You may get the feeling of being ‘fragmented’ and you need some ‘time out’ to regroup yourself and your thoughts. You need to focus on looking after yourself, this includes sleep, food, exercise, and all forms of self-care – in essence, feed the mind, body, and soul. One great way of achieving this is creative and social activities with like-minded people – just as you have to create an environment for your team to thrive in you also need to do the same for yourself.
If you’ve flown recently… you’ll remember that you should always put on your own oxygen mask first before helping anyone else with theirs. The logic being that if you can’t breathe, you won’t be able to assist others, and no one will survive… a fitting metaphor for less morbid circumstances, and for life in general: Take care of yourself before trying to take care of anyone or anything else. – Arianna Huffington, Thrive
Ultimately you will need to take risks. Taking risks and trying new things inevitably means you will make mistakes, however, this is where resilience comes in. Being resilient can buffer you against what you may feel like risky behaviour and instead you may thrive in adverse environments. It’s natural to want to get all of the information up-front but often in DPM, you have to get started and take the risk of working with what you’ve currently got. You can integrate the additional information at a later stage but don’t let the lack of it stall progress.
Aim for progress, not perfection – Audrey Hepburn
You will need to learn how to respond well to the pressure imposed by the client’s aggressive deadlines and setbacks from ever changing priorities. You need to be able to bounce back, and quickly. Regardless of how many setbacks and plain lunacies are thrown in from the client, you will need to accept them as challenges and respond with action – embrace them and look for the opportunity within. Celebrate failure, this is where you will do the most learning, build stronger self-awareness and confidence. From the lessons learnt, assess, and then reflect on what you would do differently next time and act on it – bounce like a ball and head in an upward direction.
Success is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm – Winston Churchill
Learn how to pace yourself and get perspective. You will need to be able to keep a sense of proportion; what is reasonable and what is impossible for yourself, the team and the project. Choose how you think, feel and act in response to the circumstances in front of you. Focus on what you can change and accept what you can’t (known as your ‘locus of control’). This will help to reduce wasting time and energy on factors outside of your control. What is important is your attitude and your behaviour when responding. Concentrating on what is under your control, whilst understanding but also letting go of that which is outside your control is key to remaining resilient.
You need to get to know your own strengths and get comfortable in depending upon yourself to do what it takes to get the job done. You will need trust yourself even if it means going it alone. Resilient people recognise when to call on support. Your chosen network is very important; you need your own board of expert advisors, people who can help you get perspective, or just listen and be there for you – your champions. It’s also useful to have people who have opposing opinions, to play devil’s advocate – these create great personal development opportunities and often question from a place you can’t yourself. You build resilience simply by having to deal with these personality types and appreciate the value they bring. Surround yourself with people whose character and opinions you respect and trust.
Resilience is not a fixed character trait but an ability and a capacity, which means it can be developed – Emma-Sue Prince, The Advantage
Being resilient helps you to create a framework for dealing with the universal challenges most DPM face in project delivery: aggressive deadlines, forever changing priorities, scope creep, keeping within budget and working with one of the most unpredictable entities – people. Resilience equips you to become more in control, respond to adversity in a way you can bounce-back and not personalise the setback.
During times of adversity, when a project comes off the rails or doesn’t go according to plan potentially even ending in failure. You will need to focus on maximising not only your strengths and accomplishments but the teams as well. You choose to look at the positives in a situation and the lessons learnt, and this, in turn, will build team morale and respect from your peers – which as a DPM you will need to take forward onto the next project and the one after that!
Resilience is one of the hardest soft skills to master, it takes tenacity, hard work, courage, determination and practice. It has been one of the most important core skills I have had to develop in order to have a successful career and overcome adversities in my personal life. In this ever-changing and fast-paced world, we are living in, you need to get resilient to survive and flourish!
Want to know more about the seven soft skills you need to get ahead as a DPM? As well as practical tips you can start to use straight away? Please visit the Digital Project Managers page 🙂