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Challenges Facing Project Coordinators
By Kindra McNish

Although still fairly new to the world of Project Management, I have held Project Management roles at smaller organizations and Project Coordinator roles at larger ones. Big fish in a little pond, and little fish in a big pond I think the saying goes. The challenges are quite similar, but I have found that as I gain more experience (while still remembering my days as a Junior Project Admin) that we often forget the challenges facing Project Coordinators and lose sight of the value-add they can bring to a project team.

Challenge: Role Ambiguity

One of the biggest challenges facing Project Coordinators is role ambiguity. The frustration lies in the ability to know when to be a leader, and when to be a follower. In many cases Project Coordinators are brought in with the best of intentions only to lead to a complete misunderstanding of job description. As any project member will quickly learn that adaptability is key to the success of any project; so must a Project Coordinator adapt with the responsibilities he/she is given. I once had to learn HTML (believe me, I’m no expert) in an hour so I could help an overloaded teammate. Sometimes you need to pick up the slack even when it isn’t part of your “job description”.

Challenge: Team Facilitation

Often times Project Coordinators are tasked with being the liaison between team members and the Project Manager; sometimes even conducting team meetings when the Project Manager is unavailable. It’s important to understand that whether you are facilitating a communication between stakeholders, customers or team members- communication between multiple groups of people is an art. Although you may not be the one making all of the major decisions for the project; listening, understanding and communicating the team’s challenges and successes to the Project Manager requires excellent documentation and meeting facilitation skills. If your career goal is to become a Project Manager somewhere down the line, this art must be perfected. Learning how to take really good meeting notes helps too.

Challenge: Establishing standardized process and guidelines

As a Project Coordinator, you are often brought on not only to help the Project Manager manage a project or several project managers manage several projects, you are brought on to establish some sort of order amidst the chaos. This is not always an easy task as Project Managers manage their projects differently and just because you are told to set up some sort of best practices- doesn’t mean that they will respect your recommendations or take the time to change the way they do things.

This requires receiving top level support. This is when you need to start getting top level enforcement on your new processes as well as honing the ability to “sell” to the PM’s how the establishment of your recommendations will make their lives easier and allow for better reporting for management.

Challenge: What matters to you, doesn’t necessarily matter to them

The common error (and I have been guilty of this in the past) is making the mistake that just because something matters to you, that it will matter to the Project Manager you are supposed to be supporting. Project Coordinators often mistake their role as a leadership role (which believe me, in many ways it is), when really it is a support role. You are there to make people’s lives easier not to try to instill your beliefs of project management on something that has already been decided.

Tips for success (and for making your life easier)

  • Stay Positive – Badittudes (bad attitudes) can be the single demise of a project or organization. Don’t let others bring you down even when times get tough, or when your job gets a bit daunting. The good thing about projects is that they always end. Learn from the experience, and then move on.
  • Get a Mentor – Mentors are invaluable in order to maintain your sanity. Try to make sure that your mentor isn’t your boss (because you won’t get the same kind of advice), but definitely make sure that they are significantly more senior than you. Experience is something you can only get with time but speaking with someone who’s “been there, done that” will help you learn from someone else’s mistakes.

  • Learn to sell – Selling is one of the best skills to have for a Project Coordinator or an aspiring Project Manager- not because you always need to be convincing people to do something, but because selling is negotiating, which is one of the most effective communication tools. When you have mastered the art of selling, you will be able to manage conflict, manage stakeholder expectations and ultimately communicate anything with charisma and confidence.

  • Know thyself – It’s important to remember that Project Coordination is a skill. As much as I have mentioned that as a Project Coordinator you need to how to lend a hand when necessary, it’s important to stick to your guns once and a while and not let people walk all over you. PM’s often confuse Project Coordinators as their personal Secretaries but it’s important to remember that Project Coordination is just as much a skill as any other, and is to be respected as one would any other skill set of a team member.

Kindra McNish, BCom, is an IT Project Management consultant who specializes in Change and Release Management for custom web application projects in both the private and public sector. She has been consulting/contracting for the past 4 years in Western Canada and is the director of her own consulting firm.

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