Advice for the accidental project manager

Many professionals, including EAs, are ‘accidental project managers’. In other words, people not officially tasked with managing projects but doing so without necessarily realising it

Professor Adam Boddison outlines the steps that project managing EAs can take to increase your effectiveness, improve project outcomes and support your organisation.

The practice of delivering change through projects (or ‘projectification’ as it has come to be called) is on the rise. Across multiple sectors, project management methods are being widely adopted and applied to routine tasks as a path to social and economic success.

Many professionals, including EAs, are ‘accidental project managers’. In other words, people not officially tasked with managing projects but doing so without necessarily realising it.

Last October, Association for Project Management (APM) asked its corporate partners about the roles of project professionals in their organisations. Most had seen growth in recent years, with some reporting a rise of up to 50%. Interestingly, though, some found it difficult to estimate how many they had, citing the challenge of identifying which roles were actually classed as project professionals…. Should the title apply to those for whom projects are only part of their job?

As approaches and methods that have long been used only by project specialists prove their value, it’s safe to say the future of work is projects. This should come as little surprise, particularly for EAs well-accustomed to delivering in the face of change – exactly what project management is about.

It is no longer a niche requirement. In fact, understanding of what constitutes a project is evolving. Work is increasingly being evaluated in terms of projects rather than ‘tasks’, with outputs, outcomes or benefits delivered in line with agreed acceptance criteria, timescales and budgets.

Fortunately, there are some clear steps that project managing EAs can take to increase their effectiveness, improve project outcomes and, in turn, support the ongoing success of their organisation.

Pursue professionalisation

As a high-level assistant, it’s likely your existing strengths already align well with that of a project manager. Consider harnessing these and maximising their effectiveness by pursuing formalised training. This will help give you more professional recognition, strengthen your voice in decision-making and equip you to become more involved in strategic conversations.

Join a mentoring programme

Complementing formal training with hands-on learning methods, such as mentoring, offers you access to impartial, personal advice. While certain elements of project management can be conveyed through a course or book, many aspects are best learned through experience and interaction. Mentoring is also an effective form of knowledge management – your mentor can share best practice and help prevent avoidable mistakes.

Learn from online resources

For EAs who want to learn more about project management before pursuing anything formal, there is a wealth of resources available online, from magazines and blogs to webinars and networking events. These can be a great way for you to learn more about the fundamentals of the project profession, its most pressing issues and the types of people who thrive within it.

Contribute to a culture of project success

A recent APM report revealed the most important conditions for project success (interpersonal skills, training and certifications, team ethos, technology and data, knowledge management, agility, sustainability, diversity and contracts) and how they can be applied at organisational and individual levels. Could you directly improve the chances of project success for your organisation by encouraging these conditions in your work and organisation?

It’s particularly noteworthy that soft skills emerged as a prominent theme here. Interpersonal skills are considered the most important dynamic condition explored in the report, with 97% of survey respondents believing these to be either ‘important’ or ‘very important’ for project success. Clearly, successful projects are seen to be as much about people as they are about processes.

In a changing and challenging world, project management has never played a more important role. While the environment for delivery is complex, having clear and consistent standards to aim for will help EAs – and the organisations you work for – reach new heights.

Adam is a qualified clinical hypnotherapist and chief executive at the Association for Project Management. Prior to this he held leadership roles in several membership organisations and has also published a range of books and articles