How Introvert Can Survive as Project Manager

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What? Introvert as the manager? It can’t be true, you say. This will kill you in several weeks! But I can say that there is a successful strategy how to survive for more than several years, not weeks!

Find below my short guide for all project managers who are introverted, as I am.

We can start with 2 fundamental rules that will save me time explaining some of the points:

Fundamental Rule 1:

Don’t be afraid to look fool. You are a PM, they already think you are a fool (see this post). So just remember – you can’t do worse, you can do only better.

Fundamental rule 2:

Rationality. Don’t think that other people are rational. Just assume that they are not. That will save you tons of nerves.

Here are some suggestions:

You don’t need to think fast.

I am not sure if it the introversion or my personal feature – I can’t think fast and produce ideas very quickly. I need time to think, to concentrate. I can’t think in a rush.

When I was at school I was frustrated each time I had to take part in any sort of game “give me the answer quickly”. Usually it was ok in the beginning, but  when I saw a timer – it was like an empty desert in my head. I hated tests which I had to complete in the certain amount of time – I felt like the clocks were ticking.

When you think of PMs work you certainly imagine that you should, as a knight on a white horse, come to the issue battle field. Everyone look at you waiting for you to save their life…and you  immediately produce the solution. You guide the team through the implementation and here it is, victory! Everyone is happy, applauding you!

It’s not true. You usually have time to think. You can think while allowing others to express their ideas. You have time to think standing and looking at the battle field. That is even better – team will see that you are thinking hard, how smart you are. You always look smarter when you don’t speak. So make use of this time. You even should not be smart – you are here just to facilitate the process, let the professionals design the solution! You should only take the responsibility then. Experienced project managers can even avoid the responsibility, so don’t worry about thinking fast.

Build your cocoon(hamster ball)

I think introverts understand what I am talking about – the safe cocoon around us to prevent too close interaction with others. To prevent others to feed with our energy.

Mark the “safe” territory

Do you remember computer games where you have “fog of war” — new areas on the map are discovered only when you visit them? The same applies to the office and teams – make the space yours.

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Sit with the team in one room, even if you are still afraid of them. You don’t need to speak. Just get used to them. When you can feel comfortable – you can start speaking. The top level of comfort is reached when one of them stands behind your neck and you feel ok.

Have a safe place

Have a safe place in the office where you can go when the people hate level reaches the top mark.  It should have wifi and place to sit with your computer.
I once worked in an awful office where the only safe place was the restroom. But wifi signal was very poor there! It was a disaster. Try to avoid that.

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Heart and soul of the team

Ok, you are joining a new team. You are scared to death, but still smiling. What to do? Do not try to be the best friend from the first moments. Just shake everyone’s hands, ask them their names and positions… And go to your safe place.

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You can continue socializing a bit later. It is even better if they see how busy you are and can’t spend a lot of time with them. When you get to the safe place don’t forget to write down all the names you just heard. And positions. That will help you later.

Ride the wave

Sometimes introverts feel full of energy — especially after the recharging, for example. You feel that any task can be done, any goal can be accomplished. When you have this “highly energetic” mood – have as many meetings as you can, talk to all the people you have to get prepared to the next period of “low” energy level.

Facilitator

Prepare carefully for each facilitation act. For example, if you should lead the retrospective meeting – think over the scenario beforehand. Prepare any things you’ll need (cards, markers, etc). Do not be afraid of looking like a fool (see Fundamental Rule 1).

“People hate” meter

Listen to yourself.  When you feel overwhelmed with people and communication – get busy with some task that you can done alone.  You should always have such tasks on your To do list. Create reports, perform some investigation, write a long boring email to the HR department – anything that can keep your busy for at least 1-2 hours. Make sure you won’t be disturbed.  Just don’t answer Skype or emails. Tell all your teams you are busy with the other team.

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It’s ok to be calm

You think that you don’t look energetic? Don’t look ready to fight? In reality you look CONFIDENT! There is no better thing than to look calm when you and the team are in trouble. Yes, inside you can be way from being calm, but people outside don’t know that. Their impression can be completely opposite.

Customers

Afraid of speaking? Hate customers? That’s ok. Make the others speak. You only have to ask the right questions! You should lead the calls/meetings, but you shouldn’t be the only one to speak. So enjoy and listen.

Write reports. Detailed and regular. Maximum transparency. This will help you to speak to the clients less – they’ll get half of the information they need from your reports.

Have funny stories to tell

Teams like when you tell them jokes. Prepare the list of at least ten jokes and tell one per day. Have your “favourite” jokes, so team will remember them. If you are successful enough you can even create a corporate meme.

I usually tell the funny stories from my professional experience – epic fails are usually the funniest ones.

List of the minor recommendations:
  • Buy headphones that cut the noise out.
  • Don’t play politics. Just don’t take part in that.
  • Remember, they can’t force you to attend all these off-work activities, parties and team buildings.
  • Bring your team cookies. And fruits. They speak less when they are eating.

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5 thoughts on “How Introvert Can Survive as Project Manager

  1. I have also discovered when I am playing with a team something about the boundedness of play allows me to engage more, knowing that the interaction will come to an end. It has allowed me to lead exercises with large groups and funnily enough gain energy from it. The distributed responsibility helps avoiding the feeling the light is only shining on me.

  2. Hello,

    Newly minted PM here. I just wanted to drop a comment to say that as an introvert this post really resonated with me. Especially the points about not being afraid to look like a fool (it’s GOING to happen) and taking your time to think think things through. I’m sure it pisses my customers off at times but I’ve learned to embrace not always having an immediate answer. My personal thought on that is it’s better to give a late answer than a wrong one.

    In any case, I’m glad to hear that I’m not the only person out there that found the transition a bit rough.

    1. That is interesting you mentioned that part – “not always having an immediate answer”, I pointed that out too in my work. My thought is that it is even better not to have an immediate answer. Good PM should always rely on the team, as they appear to the the tech experts (they are the people who actually going to code this “answer” later). Clients also always want to get an immediate estimtion “We want to do this *short description*. How long will it take?” Never answer that before talking to the team) If you think it is an easiest fix… In the end – it is much better to take your time. Th only thing you need to definitely do – provide them the clear guidance on when you will have an answer for them.
      As for being a fool: I think PMs are specially paid for that – being a fool instead of other people in the team 😉 I had a great discussion yesterday on the most important for the PM sets of skills. We all agreed in the end, that there are just 3 of them – project management and tech basics (you should at least know the mechanics), patience, ability to care about. And only the third is crucial – if PM does not care, it won’t work out. You can find workarounds if you miss management or tech skills, even you lack patience. But not “caring about what you do”.

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