As an Owner's Representative and Project Manager, I take pride in my reputation for finishing projects on time and within budget, driven to get the client what they want when they want it. I have attributed this to my project management style, which one could describe as stern and aggressive. I push my teams to perform and expect them to do whatever necessary to finish projects as planned. Historically I am not sympathetic or empathetic to excuses or setbacks; I want results.
Over the past year, however, as the nation and world have faced challenging, unprecedented, and unpredictable times relating to Covid and social unrest, I have come to see my role differently, adapting the way I approach projects and project teams. The adaptation stems from finding myself in the same position as everyone else, stretched to the limit mentally and emotionally as I try and navigate the conditions of our new world. Everything takes more time as everyone must interact from afar vs. in person, procedures have changed, and project teams have had to be creative to keep things flowing. I find myself seeking empathy, understanding, and help from those I work with, especially leadership.
That said, project and team expectations haven't changed; I still expect excellence. After all, that is my job, to get my clients their project on time, within budget, while maintaining quality. But, I have changed the way I lead. I previously saw myself as a "whip cracker," now I see myself more as a cheerleader and have grown to understand and appreciate my teams' hard work. I empathize with everyone in the field and realize that they are doing the best they can under the circumstance. The truth is, most always have.
I have changed my style, and none of my projects have slipped. All of my projects continue to march on, meeting and exceeding expectations. My teams are arguably closer and perhaps perform better because of my shift than they would have otherwise. My management style has changed, and I think my projects have benefitted.
By being more open and taking a more empathetic and encouraging approach to project management, much of the stress I typically put on my teams are gone, allowing people more room to navigate and perform. By showing I understand and care, people have responded by working harder to get the desired results. There is energy in compassion that translates into the work performed.
While nobody can predict the future, one thing will remain constant. People, not entities, build projects. As Owners and team leaders, it is our responsibility to understand and adjust to the pressures affecting our teams and provide the support they need. With help and understanding from Owners, teams and projects are more likely to succeed in these unprecedented times. Empathy is a powerful catalyst.