Want to be an effective project manager? (7 min read)

By Julian Faita

What is a project manager?

A project manager is responsible for the procurement, planning, and execution of a project that has a defined scope, start date, and finish date. Generally, any problems that arise during the completion of the project are brought to the project manager before being escalated to a senior-level peer or professional. Here are some tips and tricks from experienced individuals on how to be an effective project manager.

What makes an effective project manager?

An effective project manager has exceptional skills in collaboration, verbal communication, written communication, and problem solving. Working with people, as well as having the technical knowledge for the project that you’re working on, makes a truly effective project manager. Managing people can be as complicated as the project itself. Being a savvy people person, possessing emotional intelligence, being able to hold people accountable, and working effectively with multidisciplinary stakeholders are all traits that make a strong project manager.

Interview with Jeffrey Lee, CAPM

Jeffrey Lee, CAPM

1. Introduce yourself.

My name is Jeffrey Lee. I am a 5th-year Aerospace Engineering student, an avid student leader, and have been involved with several Ryerson student groups and external organizations. I am also a Peer Facilitator with the Peer Network Program (PNP) and a volunteer with the Project Management Institute of Toronto. Prior to the pandemic, I also enjoyed hanging out with my friends on campus, playing intramurals with my volleyball team, and skating at Lake Devo (if you haven’t, you should really try it!)

2. Explain your project management experience.

My Project Management experience stems from my student leadership involvement and my co-op experience. Beginning in first-year, I participated in multiple student groups and positions, including Ryerson Engineering Student Society (RESS), First Year Engineering Office (FYEO), and Engineering Student Societies’ Council of Ontario (ESSCO). All of these roles required a large amount of project management in various different forms. As a result of my experiences, I learned the importance of focusing on the vision and goals of a project in order to create a dedicated team and a meaningful solution.

During my time as President of ESSCO, we had an ambitious project to create a strategic plan for the next 3 years. I led my team through a process of brainstorming and idea generation, gathering feedback from all members equally, and analyzing discussions among member schools with contrasting opinions and diverse backgrounds. Having everyone contribute throughout the process led to a dedicated team with a shared sense of ownership to the goal. It also led to the development of a better strategic plan. Since we collectively developed our vision and goals, the team was fully aligned with each other. Not only did I learn a lot from my experience with ESSCO and my other extra-curriculars, but the project management skills I gained helped me achieve my goal of landing a co-op with Novocol.

Not surprisingly, my experience in the industry was more complex than my student leadership experience. As a Project Manager Engineer for Novocol Pharmaceuticals Canada, I led projects for clients and turned their ideas into market-ready pharmaceutical products. I dealt with projects ranging from 50 thousand to 3.5 million dollars, and led cross functional teams of 10 – 20 members. The projects I led at Novocol had strict timelines, complex and challenging technical problems, and a more diverse (multidisciplinary) team. It was quite challenging for me at the beginning and I made many mistakes at the onset of my term. However, I made sure to learn from each of my mistakes, and by the end of term I completed two projects from beginning to end for my client.

3. What makes you a good project manager?

Empathy

I put this first for a reason. I think it is the most important takeaway for any developing project manager. Leading with empathy improves team dynamics and idea generation, and leads to fewer mistakes in execution. This means creating a space for team members to understand each other’s strengths, weaknesses, and barriers. Building empathy into the team allows your team members to bond better and creates a more inclusive work environment where everyone is comfortable sharing their true opinions. This is essential for idea generation because everyone on your team brings a unique perspective to the project. This also leads to fewer mistakes during the execution of your project because team members are quicker to inform you of issues or concerns.

Communication skills

Over 90% of your role will require communication across many forms, such as written communication (emails, texts, posts), verbal communication (phone calls, meetings, etc), facilitation, and feedback, etc.. It is important to master this skill to achieve success as a project manager. 

Conflict management and humility

As high-stakes projects get tougher, pressure increases for the team and the project manager. As such, conflicts can arise that you as the leader of the team will have to resolve. It is important to know the best way to approach, manage, and negotiate conflict. It is also important to understand that we are all human and will make many mistakes. You will also make mistakes as a Project Manager. It is crucial to have the humility to admit when you are wrong. This will allow for an early intervention of an issue where people senior to you or other team members can help fix the mistake before it becomes too severe. In addition, telling your team you made a mistake and taking ownership of your action actually improves your trust with the team and overall honesty among team members.

4. What are your tips for becoming a better project manager?

To become a better Project Manager reflect on the recommendations I have made and identify what skills you can advance in yourself. If you decide that project management is the route you want to take in your career or you are simply interested in this skill set, I would recommend getting hands-on experience. There is no better place to do this than in post-secondary where it is much more acceptable to make mistakes. I would recommend trying to employ some project management practices in student groups, lab groups, design teams, job placements, and even personal projects. The more practice you put into it the more you are going to get out of it!

I would also attend the Masterclass series on Project Management  hosted by the Peer Network Program (PNP). I will be facilitating both sessions and demonstrate Project Management methods for both a extra-curricular setting and also what I learned to be effective in my coop.

5. How does one go about getting their PM certification and what are the benefits?

There are several different ways to learn methods of project management such as learning Scrum or gaining you official Project Management Professional (PMP) Certification. It is important to understand the best one for you by doing your research about all the different certifications and the job prospects of each one. In terms of my experience, I decided to get my CAPM (Certified Associate in Project Management) with the Project Management Institute. To achieve this certification I had to complete 23 hours of class (which I completed through a course on Udemy), study for my test (which took about 1 month), and complete a 3 hour 150 question virtually proctored exam. This certification lasts 3 years with an option to renew if you complete additional professional development classes. The benefit of acquiring a certification includes gaining skills that are transferable to diverse roles in industry, as well as opening doors to opportunities that specifically require the credentials. 

Getting your project management certification

Getting your project management certification can be an important way to becoming an effective project manager. To find out more, follow this link here to the Project Management Institute and review the benefits and what it takes to be an effective project manager mentioned above!

Project Management Masterclass Series

Join the Peer Network Program (PNP) for a two part workshop on all things Project Management.

Part 1

Date: Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Time: 5 p.m.- 6 p.m.

Experts and Facilitators: Jamal El Ali, Lecturer at the G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education and our Peer Facilitators Jay and Jeffrey.

Part 2

Date: Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Time: 4 p.m. – 5 p.m.

Experts and Facilitators: Peer Facilitators Jeffrey and Nika. Jeffrey will be sharing his experience as a Project Manager Engineer for Novocol Pharmaceuticals in Canada.

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