As I walked in on day one of a new job, I was stopped in my tracks by the sign on the manager’s wall:
Some people whined about the no whining sign…
…but the rest of us realized that it gave us the freedom to find solutions to our problems and ask for what we needed to be successful.
It set a tone and an expectation of self-empowerment on the team.
And it’s a mindset that’s stuck with me throughout my career.
As project managers, we deal with a lot of factors that are outside our control. But that’s no excuse for ceding the control we do have.
The “Problem” With Project Management
Project managers are responsible for the project outcomes — but not the scope, the inputs, or the decisions that affect the final deliverable and outcome.
That can be stressful — and when problems arise, things get even more stressful.
What is your first reaction when that happens?
Do you step back, ask questions, and try to understand the context, impacts, and options?
Or do you jump straight to “here we go again” and “it will all roll downhill and we’ll pick up the mess, as usual” or similar emotional statements?
In the moment, it can feel good to complain. But reacting emotionally, rather than with awareness and curiosity, sends you down a path that can quickly spiral out of control — for you and your team.
Instead, try deliberately choosing how you’ll manage the circumstances you’ve been given. Accept the situation, evaluate your options, and ask for the resources you need to move forward.
In doing so, you’re exercising the influence you do possess to get better outcomes for your team.
Where’s YOUR Locus of Control?
When you believe you have control over your situation or environment, you approach setbacks differently. Psychologists call this belief an internal locus of control.
Individuals with an internal locus of control identify places where their behavior can have an impact, and they focus their attention there.
People with an external locus of control look for places to place blame.
Which of those two groups do you think sees better results?
When you act from an internal locus of control, you’re less likely to feel put-upon, frustrated and unappreciated. Instead, you get to enjoy the experience of solving problems, making progress, and knowing that you’re managing things well.
Plus, stepping into your own authority and power creates real shifts in how your team operates.
- When you stop accepting constraints as part of your reality, you begin designing strategies to push back, work around, or resolve them.
- When you believe that you have a voice in what happens to you, you’re more likely to challenge the status quo and start asking questions.
- When you assume responsibility for your team’s function and performance, you’re more likely to shield them from distracting politics and demotivating dynamics.
- And you’re more likely to meet your team members where they are, instead of feeling frustrated that they’re not showing up as you would have liked.
These changes produce profound differences in the work environment — and in project success.
I believe that we all have the authority to make changes that work for our organizations.
- We can make a choice to lead instead of waiting to be led.
- We can make a choice to manage the details rather than become overwhelmed.
- We can make a choice to hold ourselves and our teams accountable.
What can you take responsibility for right now? How can you propel yourself and your team forward, regardless of the situation you’re facing?