10 Ways to Become a Better Project Manager

Are you a better project manager today than you were a year ago? In what ways do you want to grow in the next year? Schedule management. Cost management. Requirements management. Leadership.

In his book Talent Is Overrated, Geoffrey Colvin says simply doing an activity is no guarantee that you’ll do it well, much less get better at it. In a significant number of cases, people get worse at their jobs over time.

Whether you are working on your first project or you have been managing projects for years, we must be intentional about our personal development and growth.

Excellence Requires More Than Repetition

"Simply doing an activity is no guarantee that you’ll do it well, much less get better at it. In a significant number of cases, people get worse at their jobs over time." —Geoff Colvin

Tips to Become a Better Project Manager

Here are some 10 practical tips to boost your knowledge and skills. Pick one or two activities and schedule time in your calendar to take action.

1. Read

In 1851, the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer wrote, "Reading is equivalent to thinking with someone else's head instead of with one's own." Reading project management books and blogs is like having a conversation with the authors. You get inside their minds. You gain valuable insights. Click here to see my personal Project Management Bookshelf.

2. Get a Project Management Credential

One of the best ways to improve your project management knowledge is through acquiring a project management credential. The credential process forces you to invest a significant amount of time in learning and understanding project management principals, tools, and techniques. Check out the PMI Credentials.

3. Ask for Challenging Projects

If you run 5K races, how can you become a stronger runner? Run 10K races.

Ask for more challenging projects that allow you to expand your knowledge into other areas of your company. Look for projects that allow you to utilize newly gained project management knowledge.

4. Find a Mentor

If you take on challenging projects, ask a more experienced project manager for coaching. We can all benefit from guidance and coaching, no matter how long we have been managing projects. 

When asking someone to mentor you, be clear about your expectations. How long do you want to be mentored? How often would you like to meet? What are you hoping to learn?

5. Mentor Someone

Once you have gained experience, mentor other project managers. Let a project manager or two know that you are available to help them. As you mentor others, you will not only help your mentees, you will gain much yourself.

6. Ask for Feedback

Consistently seek feedback. If you lead a meeting, ask someone after the meeting what you can do to improve future meetings. If you speak or make a presentation, ask a trusted peer to jot down observations, good and bad, to share with you afterward.

7. Keep a Project Journal

I have found keeping a project journal very helpful. Journaling allows me to capture my thoughts, vent when I need to, and provides perspective as I review the chronology of my projects. For more information, see my blog post on 7 Benefits of Keeping a Project Journal.

8. Sleep and Nap More

I know this item seems out of place, but getting adequate sleep is essential for great performance. The average American gets 6 1/2 hours of sleep per night. Several studies have demonstrated significant improvements in performance and in our ability to learn when we get adequate sleep.

You owe it to yourself - read Tony Schwartz’s post on Sleep Is More Important Than Food.

9. Do Things That Matter

Stop wasting your time on trivial things. Focus on the things that get results. Remember, the 80/20 rule. Of the things you do every day, only about 20% really matter.

10. Review Lessons Learned

Check with your PMO or experienced project managers to see if you can get access to lessons learned. Why make mistakes that others have already made? Discover what others have learned through the school of hard knocks.

Question: I am sure you have thought of other helpful tips. What would you add?