By Amy Spelman

As a child, you may have aspired to be a doctor, teacher, singer, firefighter. If you were particularly ambitious, perhaps a superhero.

One career that probably wasn’t on your list? Project management.

And even for adults, project management doesn’t have the sexiest reputation.

Why? I’d speculate that despite its importance, project management can seem like a supporting - rather than starring - role. Project managers are often responsible for some “behind-the-scenes” work that, while less visible, is critical to an initiative’s success.

So, yes, we need to acknowledge PMs for the importance of their roles. But we also need to go a step further:

We must all become better project managers.

Why?

Regardless of title, project management is becoming a necessary function in all our roles. It’s no longer just for project managers.

But beyond having to do it, there are more reasons to strengthen your project management muscles; good project managers increase productivity, boost team morale, and drive business success. (It’s why we built a curriculum around PM communications.)

So, what does it take to be a good project manager?

Many qualities play into strong project management: communication skills, attention to detail, a proactive approach to problem solving, and more. But having an effective framework is the best place to start.

There are dozens of project management frameworks out there. Here’s one that’s robust and adaptable to different types of projects:

Phase 1: Discover & Define

Set yourself up for success by uncovering critical information about the project, such as its objectives, stakeholders, and success metrics.

For example, if you’re building a new website, is your goal to grow brand awareness, attract clients, or something else? Who will be involved? What does success look like and how will it be measured?

There are plenty of questions to answer in this phase. Avoid rushing through it; a thoughtful, considered project start makes success more attainable.

Phase 2: Plan & Recruit

Assemble your team, determine what needs to be tracked (and how), and kick off.

Beyond selecting team members, you’ll want to clearly define roles and responsibilities. Continuing with the website example, if a C-suite executive is involved, to what extent? Perhaps you need her sign-off at critical milestones, but not her involvement in the day-to-day. A tool like the RACI matrix can help ensure clarity on the team’s roles and responsibilities.

Phase 3: Adjust, Refine & Communicate

Run the project – but not on autopilot. Good project management requires regularly tracking progress, updating the team, and course-correcting, as needed.

However well we plan and prepare, we must expect the unexpected. The best project managers are accountable – for the good and the bad. What does accountability look like? Taking ownership of issues as soon as they arise, engaging the appropriate stakeholders, exploring potential solutions, and taking corrective action.

Phase 4: Solicit Feedback, Follow-Up & Review

Finished doesn’t mean over. How you close a project is as important – if not more – than how you run it. To successfully wrap a project, debrief with the team.

What should a debrief include? As the saying goes, “You either succeed or you learn.” Be sure to celebrate wins and discuss lessons for improving next time.

I’ve got the framework; what else can I do?

I’ve only scratched the surface. To build and sustain robust project management for yourself and your team, consider additional resources.

  • A third-party-led facilitation or workshop can be a boon for teams large and small.

  • Partnering with a leadership coach for support tailored to your needs. I coach leaders 1:1 to build the skills they need to run projects more smoothly, making even the most complex initiatives more manageable.

  • Continue educating yourself - talk to experienced PMs in your network, or find informative articles, podcasts, and books. Ask me for recommendations - I’ve got some at the ready.

In conclusion

While I don’t expect kids to start dressing up as project managers for career day anytime soon, we can all benefit from more awareness about the importance of a PM’s role. And by striving to become better PMs ourselves, we’ll enhance our own performance and help our teams thrive, too.

A leadership coach and facilitator, Amy Spelman inspires individuals and teams to perform at their best. She’s worked closely with brands like American Express, Bread Finance, Marriott, Merck, New York Public Library, Penn Mutual, St. Regis, Tapestry, The Luxury Collection, and W Hotels, among others. You can reach Amy here.