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There are those who think that the number one job of a project manager is — if you’ll forgive the tautology — to manage projects. However, there’s an even deeper and more important role that project managers should perform, regardless of whether they’re developing software, launching a marketing campaign, building a facility or carrying out any other important objective: leading people.

Indeed, while it can easily get lost in the frenetic chaos that characterizes many projects — especially those that still use spreadsheets, emails and home-grown apps instead of enterprise-grade SaaS project management software — at a fundamental level, project managers are responsible for ensuring that the people on their team don’t just succeed, but that they GROW.

To help project managers of all experience levels embrace this career-changing responsibility — and potentially life-changing opportunity — let us be guided by the sage advice of the 13th century poet, jurist, scholar, theologian and mystic Rumi: “Be a lamp, a lifeboat or a ladder.”

Be a Lamp

While designs range from classic elegance to ultra-futuristic (some even light up when a favorite sports team scores), the primary purpose — i.e. the thing that makes a lamp a lamp — is illuminating the immediate surroundings, so that people know where to go; and just as importantly, where not to go.

Project managers also need to illuminate their team members with tools that provide 360-degree visibility of their domain (e.g. development, testing, QA, marketing, professional services and so on), so they know where they’ve been, where they are and where they’re headed. What’s more, this radiance cannot be limited to the workplace. Team members also need to access real-time visibility in the field, in remote offices, at the airport waiting for a flight and anywhere else their work journey takes them.

Be a Lifeboat

It doesn’t matter how robust and comprehensive project plans are: as every project manager knows, it’s only a matter of time before issues emerge; some that will be beneficial, and others that will be negative (and still others that are both…and neither).

Throughout this process, project team members can find themselves struggling to remain afloat due to an excessive — and in some cases, unsustainable — workload imbalance. And since this typically happens when the environment is chaotic and frenetic, their cries for help aren’t heard. Before long, instead of a cohesive team, it’s “every man and women for themselves” — not due to selfishness, but out of self-preservation.

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Project managers sail an essential lifeboat for their team members when they use enterprise-grade project management software to:

  • Track individual resources to ensure that performance and productivity targets are being met, while at the same time prevent over-utilization and burnout.
  • Clearly see dependencies — on both individual project and portfolio levels — so that solving a resource imbalance issues in one area, doesn’t trigger problems elsewhere or down the road.
  • Run hypothetical scenarios given different priorities and constraints (e.g. budget, schedule, critical path, etc.).
  • Rapidly locate resources based on availability, location, skill set and cost and efficiently re-allocate based on ongoing and changing project needs and scope.

A Ladder

Ladders are built to elevate people from the surface to higher ground. And of course, they need to be sturdy and well-made; or else people can go from what should be a simple vertical voyage, to a horizontal stay in a hospital bed (and we won’t even bring up the food!).

Project managers also need to uplift their team through a collaborative work management (CWM) system that:

  • Enables team members to see how their meaningful contribution impacts the bigger picture.
  • Drives in-context and streamlined internal and external communication, so that team members are truly collaborating vs. merely conversing.
  • Automates repeatable processes, so team members can focus on priority objectives vs. get bogged down and held back by tedious, time consuming manual tasks.
  • Identifies when team members lean forward and over-deliver, so they can be applauded for their accomplishments — and just as importantly, their efforts can be integrated as best practices.

The Bottom Line

The world’s best project managers aren’t just professionals with the most successful track records, or the longest list of awards and recognitions. This coveted group also includes project managers who haven’t earned global praise, written a book or delivered a keynote at a high-profile conference — but that’s beside the point. They did something even more valuable and profound: they went from ordinary project manager to remarkable people leader by serving as a lamp, a lifeboat or a ladder.