By: Leslie Stevens-Huffman
Congratulations! You won over the engineering hiring manager and now you’re about to start a new contract assignment. As the news sets in, your excitement turns to angst when you realize that you’ll be working with an engineering project manager you barely know.
Relax. Our five tips will help get you off on the right foot with your project manager and set the stage for a supportive alliance over the course of the project.
#1. Be a Great Follower
“Engineering project managers have a difficult job because they are often required to act as change agents, and people naturally resist change,” noted Cesar Abeid PMP, V.P. of Client Services for Remontech and host of the podcast Project Management for the Masses.
Nine out of ten times they don’t have the power or authority to mandate compliance, he added. So a project manager’s success hinges on his or her ability to influence others and recruit great followers.
“Set a positive tone by understanding what the project manager is trying to achieve, and be open to his leadership from day one,” Abeid said. “Coming in with an open mind and heart will get you off on the right foot with your project manager – and the rest of your teammates for that matter.”
Moreover, your project manager is more likely to trust you and solicit your advice and feedback if you convey support for his goals. Being a willing advocate will yield dividends throughout the project.
#2. Clarify the Project’s Goals
Even if you reviewed the scope of work with the engineering manager, confirm the requirements and the project deliverables with your project manager before you roll up your sleeves and actually dig in.
A change in materials, timelines or designs can occur at any time. And aligning your efforts with the goals of stakeholders and teammates increases the opportunity for success, while reducing rework and frustration.
“It’s important for project engineers to understand the endgame and what you’re working toward,” Abeid said. “Avoid confusion by getting a clear understanding of your project manager’s expectations and taking notes each time he gives you an assignment.”
#3. Don the Team Jersey
Text messaging, phone calls, email – everyone has their favorite way of communicating. But from a project manager’s perspective, there’s no room for renegades when it comes to something as critical as communications. As this report from PMI shows, one out of five projects is unsuccessful due to ineffective communication. Abeid says that’s why project managers spend about 90% of their time communicating.
“Every project team has a culture and a language and a way of communicating,” he noted. “Pay attention when you start a new assignment so you can weave their terms into your communication style. Be willing to use whatever app or software the firm uses. In other words, don’t be a rival – wear the jersey of the project team, especially when it comes to communications.”
#4. Be Flexible
Even when projects are shepherded by capable, experienced project managers, things rarely go as planned. If you expect your duties and responsibilities to change, it will be a lot easier to amend your proposal or embrace a new timeline or duties.
“It’s a project manager’s job to enact changes that are mandated by the project owner, and some things are beyond their control,” Abeid said. “For instance, one of our projects was recently delayed when artifacts were discovered on the construction site. These events affect everyone, and it comes with the territory when you’re an engineering contractor.”
#5. Share Successes and Failures
Project managers aren’t the only ones who encounter setbacks or adversity over the course of a project. If you make a mistake or uncover a problem, tell your project manager right away.
“Your project manager is on your side,” Abeid said. “Together, you can tackle and resolve almost any issue, but only if you bring them to his or her attention.”
When it comes to building a positive, mutually beneficial alliance with your project manager, it turns out that advocacy is truly a two-way street. They will support and advocate for you if you pledge your support to them.
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