I think the hardest part about being a manager is managing the different personalities of the people with whom you directly work on your team. Mainly because until you’re in the trenches of the day-to-day, you never really know what you’re getting into. And your ability to manage these people is going to make or break you.
Once you’re committed to a role, it’s important to make an effort to understand and recognize each team member as a unique individual that requires customized attention. People have different strengths (which they were probably hired specifically for), weaknesses, work styles and motivations that impact how they contribute to a project. By understanding the person, project managers can better cater to each team member’s needs, which can ultimately lead to a more productive workforce.
And while this is true for any manager role, it’s absolutely crucial for a creative project manager. Why? Because creatives can be quirky, moody, particular and eccentric. Not all of them. But definitely some of them. They’re artists after all. Some of the really artsy ones have trouble coming back to their logical brain – i.e. to the project management, time management and organization that we ask of them. That’s where you come in.
Setting People Up for Success
Said another way, many creatives struggle with such things as project management, time management, etc. because they’re just frankly not their strengths. Therefore, they have to devote extra time and effort to these types of tasks. If you can take that stuff off their plate, you’ve provided an invaluable service and you’ve now opened them up to focus more on their work.
Once you’ve spent enough time with them and understand their strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes, you can also guide the types of projects and tasks that come their way. You have much better odds of getting great work if the project is something that they want to work on. Needless to say, talking to people about their preferences is the best way to do this. You might find that some people like a production-type task during their week because it gives them a mental break while still feeling productive. Find what makes people tick and try to get that type of work in their hands.
The last one I’ll mention here is understanding your team’s capacity for work and being able to assign them work appropriate for both their bandwidth and your project milestones. It’s important to implement a tool to help you understand this so that you aren’t overloading your creatives.
Understand how a person evaluates their work and tasks. For example, I worked with a guy who’s incredibly optimistic which is great for personal and stakeholder interactions but bad for planning because he consistently underestimated the time needed to complete a task. Once you know this, you can plan for him. If he estimates a task will take him four hours, I will pad that timing to 1.5x and give him six hours to complete it. I think it’s also worth mentioning that these “understandings” don’t have to be secrets. I actively joked with my optimistic designer about planning extra time for his projects.
Another obvious one is understanding how people like to be supported. It sounds weird in a professional setting to say this but: find out what their “love language” is. Some people need to vent but do the work anyway. Others need a cheerleader and need to be reassured that they can get the work done and do it well. And some need a project manager who will go to bat for them and ask for extensions or defend a decision. If the support they require is within reason (let’s not go breaking any laws or violating any company policies) and you’re able to provide it, you will find these individuals will be very gracious for the effort on their behalf.
I personally think there’s a sliding scale that project managers as individuals fall on, from micromanaging to laissez-faire management. I tend to fall more on the laissez-faire side because I’ve never seen anything good come from standing over someone demanding work. And everyone in the workplace should be capable of holding themselves to expectations and communicating if a deadline is slipping. That being said, some people require more hand-holding than others. Sometimes this comes in the form of posting meeting notes with action items, or checking in a couple hours before a deadline to make sure files are tracking toward delivery. If it helps get the project completed, do it.
It’s important to note, especially in a remote work environment, that every time you approach one of your team members – whether it’s a communication via email, meeting, your PM tool or a Slack – you usually need something from them. Respect is going to be a big player here. Acknowledging someone’s workload, stating how urgent something is, and acknowledging that their response and effort is appreciated is important. For example, you might say “Hey Scott, I know you’re busy and this is no rush, but I have something that I’d value your opinion on when you have a minute.” It’s also important that if you have the option to spread favors around to different team members, you should. Don’t go to the same person every time; you will burn that bridge quickly.
The last one I’ll mention, which is probably the most obvious, is good old-fashioned communicating. No one can read your mind. Be explicit with what you need when. Be transparent about strict or flexible deadlines. Help your team prioritize projects – this one is huge. Don’t be the PM who cried “urgent.”
People are not interchangeable so managing them shouldn’t be a one-size-fits-all approach. There’s a reason AI doesn’t do our jobs; we’re here for the people!
Learn to identify the types of difficult stakeholders and how to proactively manage them.
Part II of effectively identifying
and managing types of difficult
How to spot the difference between
good and bad feedback, and how to guide it.