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Don’t Be a Project Superhero
By Charlotte Franck

Recently, in my organization, I had to step in to save the day for a project that was getting ready to explode. Customers were furious, employees were frustrated, and nothing was going right. I used my project management skills to rally the troops, and call in the big guns (top management). Through extraordinary efforts, the project was saved. I felt like a hero!

I was on an adrenaline high and pumped like any project manager would be after a project near-death experience; however, while there is something very addictive about being a hero, from a project perspective this is all wrong.

In my early days, I worked on projects where our senior managers constantly had to exercise their “super powers” to keep our projects on track, as well as direct the junior managers in day-to-day activities. At the time, I thought our managers were great and I hoped to be like them one day.

As I worked on more projects (and matured as a project manager), I started to ask questions. Why was it that successful managers had to constantly fight fires? If managers weren’t constantly telling people what to do, how might they be more productive and useful? What might team members be able to accomplish without such tight supervision?

I came to the conclusion that there has to be less hero time on projects. When there are heroes, there are fires to fight and people to be saved instead of pursuing project excellence and individual initiatives for continuous improvement.

Project Heroics

Figure 1: Project Heroics

Even in the best run projects, project managers will still have to be a hero from time to time, but if we are spending too much time in our superhero costumes, we need to figure out why and how to change it.

Further reading:

Turn the Ship Around: A True Story about Turning Followers into Leaders by David Marquet is a great resource for helping project managers get out of the hero mode and into the effective leader mode. The book describes how the author turned his crew, on a nuclear submarine, from being the worst in the fleet to the best by changing the model of leadership from one of leader-follower to leader-leader. If a nuclear submarine crew can successfully change its paradigm and effectiveness, I think most projects can make this change too.

If you are having to change into your project superhero costume a little too much, what can you do to keep that from happening?

Charlotte Franck, PMP runs InSite Solutions. InSite Solutions, Inc. provides a guiding compass for project management success by applying the right amounts of project management knowledge, experience, training, process development and coaching to meet your unique needs.

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