Leaders, Celebrate Your Project Managers

by Crystal Richards and Amber Bezahler

Project managers can sometimes feel like they’re doing a thankless job. You know the deal. You’re responsible for initiating, planning, executing, controlling and finalizing a team’s work. You’re accountable for projects that impact the strategic direction of the organization. In some cases, the projects you manage impact the livelihoods of the people who work at the organization.

Project managers bravely embrace their role as leaders of ambitious initiatives. They do this having full knowledge that their efforts sometimes go without formal recognition.

 But, project managers, this article isn’t for you.

Why? Because you already know this reality. This post is for the executives who run the company at which you work. And now it’s time for your colleagues and bosses to understand and applaud what you do, day in and day out.

Let’s talk about the truth of what it is to be a project manager…

Leaders, if you manage project managers, it’s essential to place yourself in their shoes and understand their day-to-day reality. Here’s what it’s like to be a PM:

The Buck Stops Here: Project managers continually encourage and praise everyone else for their successes yet, as the PPMPractitioner puts it, the project manager must “be willing to fall on one’s sword when things get bad” because they are ultimately accountable.

The Blame Game: According to Rational Plan, everyone wants to take credit when there’s a success, but people are quick to point the finger when things don’t go according to plan. And those fingers are typically pointed at the project manager.

Sometimes, It’s An Invisible Role: Similar to the previous point, project management is all about allowing the owners of a business unit or the executives to take credit for the success of a project. As the Digital Project Manager explains it, project managers are continually allowing others to bask in the limelight of successfully executed endeavors, even when they did 90% of the work.

Also, It’s A Misunderstood Role: The majority of team members don’t understand what a project manager does. Furthermore, according to a Pixar study, most team members feel a project manager is overhead and creates unwanted complexity on a project.

Celebrating your PMs is good for corporate culture and the bottom line

Let’s face it: good project managers are worth their weight in gold as they successfully deliver high-priority initiatives that are the difference between winning and losing in your industry. Effective PMs are not only competent at what they do, but can also be resources in training others, as well as be prime candidates for succession planning when it comes to developing future leaders.

While it may seem trivial and unimportant to celebrate your project managers, the expense of replacing a PM is a big deal with costs running upwards of $15,000 per unfilled position (the costs increase even more when it’s a senior-level role).  And don’t forget to also account for the hours spent in recruiting, interviewing, onboarding, training, and that precious lost time on the project itself.

7 expert PMs weigh in on this topic

We’re lucky to have encountered many talented project managers throughout our respective careers. We’ve reached out to seven superstar PMs to solicit their perspectives on this matter, and to provide ideas on how to acknowledge and celebrate the work of your project managers. 

Andrew Kirby, PMP
Partner at Apply Digital

Andrew Kirby loves project managers

“At its core, project management is about creating something from nothing; taking an incomplete idea and making it a reality. It’s a messy business, filled with inconsistencies, paradox, egos, and lots of emotion. The really great PMs make it seem effortless so it’s easy for management to take them for granted. If you find yourself in this position, the delivery of your corporate strategy may be at risk.”

Bruce Gay, PMP
Senior Project Manager at UPMC Enterprises

Bruce Gay loves project managers

“Project Managers often have an out-sized influence on the success of a project but are typically recognized as ‘one of the team’ by management. Business leaders need to adjust their mindset to see PMs as valuable contributors and potential candidates for the leadership roles within the organization.”

Julian Francis, PMP
Operations Manager, Project Management Global Institute

Julian Francis loves project managers

“Many projects seem daunting after exhaustive and detailed planning — laden with risks, difficult stakeholders and tight deadlines. Project managers are oftentimes expected to successfully navigate through these constraints and deliver “gold”. It would serve an organization well for leaders to acknowledge project managers along the life of the project; it serves as encouragement to keep going, especially in the toughest parts of a project, as well as to unleash the full potential of project managers.”

Anita Phagura, APMP
Founder, Fierce Project Management

Anita Phagura loves project managers

“Being a project manager means being responsible for everyone and everything! For women and minority groups in a typically white and male-dominated industry, our journey can be more difficult — we can face biases (often unconscious, sometimes overt prejudices) and the culture isn’t there to support us. Plus, we often lack senior executives who are like us to change that culture and who we can look to us as role models. So, take action to check those biases and create an inclusive culture; listen to us, actively sponsor us and celebrate our successes otherwise you risk losing out on some amazing talent.”

Rob Baron
Supervisory DD at Electronic Arts Sports Mobile

“Driving to deadlines can lead to longer hours, this helps build team comradery. The PM is at the helm, remaining composed, keeping team members and stakeholders calm and focused, communicating the right message to the right audience at the right time.”

Trinesha Longley, MS, PMP
Organizer & Leader at Technical Project Managers DC Meetup Group 

“Recognition by the executive team has gone a long way in motivating me to go the distance for projects, especially those initiatives that are long-ranging — what I call “marathon projects”. To put it in perspective, I ran a half marathon and the cheering from the crowd is what kept me going after each milestone.”

Adrian Moise
Founder & CEO at Aequilibrium Software

“Being a project manager is like being an orchestra director. Your role is to keep everyone in harmony, aligned to a shared goal and purpose. The same way spectacular directors can bring their emotion and passion to elevate the symphony’s performance, great PMs can unleash the potential of their team to co-create a more valuable outcome than captured in the original composition!”


16 stellar tips to celebrate your project managers

Our project management experts have weighed in on how you can celebrate your project managers. Below, are sixteen strategies you can put into practice today:

1. Give Thanks: Celebrate the milestones more frequently by sending a quick note to your PM and the team expressing your appreciation and kudos. A simple “thank you” or “well done” goes a surprisingly long way. Often times, milestones go unrecognized until the end of a project, and this is a chance to give thanks more frequently.
(Trinesha Longley)

2. Provide Specific, Timely Feedback: Take time to notice and acknowledge the small and big contributions your PMs are making on an ongoing basis. There are so many things a project manager does daily that go under the radar. Give feedback often — make it specific about what it was that was good and the impact it has had on the business. PMs are sometimes so busy delivering, they don’t realize the positive impacts they are having, let alone learn from them.
(Anita Phagura)

3. Give A Shout Out: Give recommendations publicly, on Linkedin or other social networking platforms. It means a lot for a developing PM.
(Julian Francis)

4. Offer Praise Amongst Peers: Institute special quarterly awards for superlative work and give out a PM excellence award for a project manager who has gone above and beyond the call of duty. Praising team members among their peers is very powerful and strengthens corporate culture.
(Trinesha Longley)

5. Encourage PMs To Share Their Success: Make it part of your company culture that everyone shouts about their own successes too. This will mean that even those that are normally less vocal and more modest are encouraged to share the great stuff that they are achieving.  This will allow you to understand each member’s individual contributions, and your PMs can learn from each other, and understand their colleagues’ strengths when they need a go-to expert. It might even surprise you that who you thought was your best PM, may have just been the most vocal at sharing their own successes.
(Anita Phagura)

6. Remember, Small Gestures Matter: If a PM is working around the clock, offer that individual a day off or the ability to work from home for a day or two.
(Trinesha Longley)

7. Offer Some Swag: You might be surprised, but employees enjoy receiving company swag or apparel. Consider giving it as an acknowledgment of work well done after the completion of a major milestone.
(Trinesha Longley)

8. Don’t Forget, Everybody Loves To Eat: For those pressure periods where the team needs to work overtime, or you want to reward the team, give your PM the ability to extend the invite to significant others/family members. Make it something special for the team, this is the time to thank and recognize their contribution.
(Rob Baron)

9. Acknowledge Superlative Work In A Meaningful Way: Remember that while recognition of extraordinary work can be monetary (i.e., a bonus), sometimes the more meaningful reward is when you invest in a PMs career by paying for a PMO course or PM conference.
(Adrian Moise)

10. Appreciate Pre-planning: Make a point of identifying and acknowledging PMs who planned well, tracked and mitigated risk, and kept things calm and on track. Look for when projects/teams used to be ‘noisy’, and through careful planning and improvements, it’s now operationally quiet and things are getting done. Those project managers are the true gems! Acknowledge the PM who finds the right balance of strategic planning, operational mastery, and team buy-in.
(Rob Baron)

11. Embrace The R-word: One defining characteristic of a strong project manager is her ability to manage risk. It is a skill that is under-appreciated by management — of course, no-one wants to hear about all the things that could go wrong, right? And yet, the really successful project managers assuage management’s concerns and anxieties because these PMs have carefully and painstakingly considered how to avoid disastrous outcomes. Consequently, their vision of success is clearer, and this translates into a project team that is more confident. So next time a project manager comes to you with a risk plan, listen carefully and praise her for avoiding a potential disaster.
(Andrew Kirby)

12. Value And Celebrate The Diversity Of Your PMs: Don’t just value the leadership style(s) that you are used too. We don’t all need to lead in the same style to deliver results, and this diversity means the PMs within your organization can learn from each other, break out of groupthink, and be more creative to identify risks and to innovate.
(Anita Phagura)

13. Allow Your PM To Be Strategic: Provide a growth opportunity for your PM by growing strategic skill sets. A PM who excels at his/her job can also contribute to organizational alignment — building consensus between stakeholders on shared goals/success, proactively communicating to avoid surprises, acting as liaison between business, design, and technology groups; and helping to reframe projects/solutions to focus on higher, more valuable outcomes, rather than simply delivering compliance to initial project requirements.
(Adrian Moise)

14. Empower PMs To work Outside Their Domain: An incredible way to recognize a star PM is to allow that person to work on a different area of the business in which s/he is interested. This is similar to the Google 20% rule where employees are encouraged to spend 20% of their time working on initiatives that they feel will be personally enriching while benefiting the organization. Couple this time with access to professional development and training related to work on the new initiative.
(Bruce Gay)

15. Value Impact Over Efficiency: There is often a tendency to evaluate project managers exclusively on project efficiency because these metrics (on-budget, on-schedule) are just so easy to measure compared to impact metrics (growth and/or cost savings). Unfortunately, this lop-sided measurement approach incentivizes the wrong behaviors; project managers become cost controllers, schedule keepers, and are less willing to embrace acceptable risks. Management that solely values project efficiency will, therefore, have projects where the scope and quality is routinely compromised in order to hit dates and budgets, making it harder to realize business goals. While not easily done, value the impact of a project, and place those metrics on par or higher than the KPI of efficiency. When management implicitly trusts a project manager to realize the best outcome for the business instead of taking a penny-wise, pound-foolish approach, you’ll see better results, and will build stronger project managers.
(Andrew Kirby)

16. Help Your PMs Evolve: Build a leadership program that includes senior Project Managers. In many companies, there is no clear career ladder for PMs to grow beyond the Sr. Project Manager level. Executives could expand their leadership talent program to include PMs. Given that developing leadership skills is a key role of PMs, some of the best-qualified candidates for leadership succession may be PMs.
(Bruce Gay)

Closing Thoughts

Project managers are trained to celebrate their teams. PMs know to recognize and reward everyone involved throughout the project lifecycle. They know to give credit where credit is due. And they know to give feedback at the appropriate times to ensure personal improvement. However, although project managers are trained to do these things for their teams, seldom do they receive the same recognition or accolades on a regular basis.

Just like their team members, project managers desire recognition for their work and opportunities for growth and advancement. As leaders, it is imperative to set up an environment and engage your project managers in a way that they give their very best performance — and want to stay.

We hope these insights from project management experts will provide inspiration and consideration for celebrating your project managers moving forward. 

What are some of the ways you celebrate your PMs? Be sure to leave your comments below.

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Co-author, Amber Bezahler is a growth and turnaround operations expert. Her passion is helping organizations achieve alignment by building high-performing, resilient teams that connect the strategic plan meaningfully to their daily work. Amber is currently Chief Operating Officer at Hologenix, a life sciences and wellness product company. amberbezahler@gmail.com https://www.theinnovationframework.com