I joke that most PR people have A.D.D. The work environment, especially that of a PR agency, is not conducive to dedicated focus on any one thing. I almost see a bit of attention flightiness as a good thing. If you’re able to switch from the deep concentration of the byline drafting process to answer a client call, and then wrap that up for an internal team meeting on another client without breaking a sweat – you’re golden.
When I first started my job at KNB, I was tasked with being a project manager. I had advanced to a more senior position and my role as I had known it over the years was going to change. Embarrassingly though, I had to ask my husband what a project manager really does and how the role was any different from what I did on a daily basis as is. It took me only a few seconds to realize, I was pretty much already playing that role, and I had already built the skills necessary to make it an “official” part of my job description. Now when people ask me what I do, silly me quotes the Planet Fitness commercial: “I pick things up and put them down.” Pretty literally, while I write, pitch, strategize and more on a daily basis, most of my job is moving things from one person or place to the next efficiently, and making sure balls don’t get dropped.
It takes a special set of skills to excel as a project manager. Rest assured, these skills are always evolving and there is always room for improvement. No one is perfect. Here’s hoping the following will get you off to a good start as a project manager, or help you revisit or hone your skills in your current role.
- Organization, organization and organization. It goes without saying, the better organizational skills you have, the better you’ll be at running things. Whatever works for you – list making, charts, grids, online tools – remain dedicated to your best practices. While there might be a need for adapting your organizational styles to your colleagues’ or perhaps your office uses a tool like Basecamp, stick to what you know keeps you organized.
- It’s all in how you say it. My role at KNB requires me to manage my peers and supervisors (we all really help manage each other as a team). I don’t think any senior staff member would take it well if all I did was distribute bossy emails: “Where is this? It’s due today!” In fact, no one would appreciate that. Ensuring that tactical items progress smoothly, plan well in advance with your team. Have a meeting at the start of every project, or hold a weekly meeting to make sure everyone is on the same page. Be helpful in your tone, not demanding. And lastly, walk the walk. You don’t add much to a team when all you do is facilitate the movement of something. Make sure you are equally contributing and carrying your weight.
- Plan ahead. Deadlines are missed. It happens. However, in the deadline-driven world of PR and journalism, a missed deadline can be detrimental. Always keep internal deadlines for deliverables to play it safe. If an editor tells you a byline is due November 1, tell your client it’s due October 25 (sorry clients!). This will give you some much needed wiggle room in case something goes awry keeping you from meeting the expected deadline. While this may enable clients to think “oh, we can always get the deadline bumped,” it at least gives you a bit of flexibility.
- Be smart. Knowing what is important to what team members can save dozens of emails and unnecessary, time-consuming conversations every day. Oftentimes, we think that more information is better. While that can sometimes be the case, I loathe information overload. It taxes your decision making abilities and zaps mental energy. Be considerate of your teammates’ time and try to have an inkling of what’s on everyone’s plate so your entire team can stay focused.
- Find a balance. No one likes a pest. There is a fine line between following up on things and just being annoying. If you need something from a teammate or client, especially something that’s timely/pressing, follow up once or twice via email depending on the timeframe. If you don’t get an answer, take it to the phones. Most times making a request verbally softens what might seem like a demanding tone over text in an email.
Like I said before, there’s no perfect project manager and there’s no perfect way to do it. Find your style and what works for you and your teammates. Now back to picking things up and putting them down…