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Confidence: What You Need to Know to be a Confident Project Manager

Confidence: What You Need to Know to be a Confident Project Manager

Confidence goes a long way to making an effective Project Manager. Because a big part of your job is to inspire confidence in the people around you: your team, your sponsor or client, and your stakeholders.

And with confidence comes assertiveness. As a Project Manager, you’ll often need to ‘get your way’ in a courteous and respectful manner.. but without formal authority. Showing confidence is vital for that to.

So, what’s the problem?

The problem is that many Project Managers don’t feel as confident as we’d like to. It’s our little secret.

And that means that confidence, and what you need to know about being confident, is a great topic for an OnlinePMCourses feature article!

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Confidence: What You Need to Know to be a Confident Project Manager

Confidence: What You Need to Know to be a Confident Project Manager

As you’d expect, we’ll tackle this big topic in a straightforward and structured way. This article is divided into four sections:

  1. The Impact of Lack of Confidence
  2. The Reasons for a Lack of Confidence
  3. Mindset: Learning to Feel Confident
  4. Behaviors: How to Convey Confidence

The Impact of Lack of Confidence

The primary impact of a lack of confidence in the project manager is that you then fail to inspire confidence in the people around you.

Team Members

Working in a team, we need to feel a measure of certainty about what our role is, how we can contribute, what is expected of us, and that someone is in charge. And where does that certainty come from?

Yup, it comes from the person who is leading us. And if our project manager is unable to inspire confidence in the people you need to follow you…

Some team members will get on and lead themselves. Others will try to take the lead. They’ll take your unconfident behavior as a sign that it’s okay to challenge your leadership. This will be profoundly unsettling for other team colleagues, it will threaten the direction of your project, and it will be a waste of everyone’s time.

Sponsor, Client, Boss

Then there is the person for whom you are working. It’s hard enough to engage your project sponsor at the best of times. But if there’s one thing your project sponsor wants, it’s a project manager who is in control of your project. Are you?

If you aren’t confident then, I could argue, you aren’t fully in control.

Now, no boss wants unmerited arrogance. But they do want to see you confident that you know what is going on, and you are in control of the decisions and actions that will lead to a successful outcome for your project.I you aren’t, then they would be perfectly right to wonder if it’s time to replace you.

Stakeholders

I can happily argue that your primary role is to inspire confidence in your stakeholders. Of course, that isn’t all about the front you put up. It has also to be about the competence you demonstrate and the results you get. But, in the early days, and in days when you are up against real issues and even crises, your stakeholders need to feel confident that you have a steady hand. And that means you need to show your confidence to them.

The Reasons for a Lack of Confidence

There are as many reasons for not being as confident as you’d like. And many of us embody a number of them. But here are the five commonest reasons I’ve encountered.

And yes… before you ask, I’ve felt a little of all of these in my time.

Youth

The first is the simplest. Many project managers take on their first project at a young age. And often, there are project team members who are older and more experienced than you.

Speak to a number of experienced project managers and you’ll find a good proportion who can remember this.

One of the impacts of this emotional ‘feeling like you’re not quite old enough’ is the way you start to either appeal to others for help in a pleading way, or easily become angered or upset if things don’t go your way. A great way to start to understand this dynamic is with a psychological model called Transactional Analysis, and we have a short video that answers the question ‘What is Transactional Analysis?’

Imposter Syndrome

The Imposter Syndrome is similar, but can affect anyone of any age and any level of experience or accomplishment. It’s that feeling inside that we’re all still little kids. The feeling that ‘hey, how did I get here?’

To find out more about imposter syndrome, check out the article on Imposter Syndrome, on the Management Pocketblog.

Inexperience

Sometimes there is a good reason for our lack of confidence: we don’t have a lot of experience of the domain or specialism we’re working in. No matter how much faith you have in your general experience, smartness, and transferrable skills, you remain uncertain about some of your decisions.

In many ways, this is admirable. If you were highly confident, it would be a sign of arrogance, and a set up for hubris.

Perfectionism

Sometimes you don’t just want to get something right: you want to nail it spot on. And some people have this as their default mode. Often a lack of confidence in all but the most comfortable of situations is the price people pay for this kind of perfectionism.

This is less about not being confident that you can do a good job. Rather, this is a nagging insecurity that you’ll never be able to do a good enough job to satisfy your own standards. And these standards may be unrealistically high.

It’s How You’re Wired

Yup. Some people come out of the box with more or less confidence than others. Whether we are born with that wiring or we acquire it at an early age, I’ll leave to the psychologists to analyse. Although my feeling is that it’s something we pick up at an early age.

If I am right, then maybe enough experience of success, perhaps coupled with some intervention, could make these un-confident people more confident.

Mindset: Learning to Feel Confident

Whichever reason drives your lack of confidence, you’ll sometimes want to turn that around. I have a simple formulation that will help you to feel confident going into a possibly stressful situation. Whenever you want to feel confident, try using my ‘Triangle of Confidence’.

The Triangle of Confidence

The Triangle of Confidence

Self-talk

You know that voice in your head? That’s it; the one that’s thinking ‘is he talking about me now?’

It’s not strange. You aren’t ill. We all have a voice in our head.

And, when you’re under pressure, it often makes you feel worse:

  • ‘Oh no, it’s gonna go all wrong’
  • ‘You fool. You should have spent more time preparing.’
  • ‘This is going to be your fault. You aren’t good enough to be running this project.’

You get the idea? How familiar are those?

This is called self-talk. And it often gets in the way of good performance and self-confidence.

But it need not. Because it’s you who is in charge of that voice. You control it. (If you don’t, then that’s when you need to worry.) So, because you control your self-talk, why not use it?

Good Self-talk

If you had a personal performance coach (check out our article on How Coaching Skills will Make You a Better Project Leader), what would they say to you? Not that rubbish, above. Or if you shared your worries with a friend, or a reliable colleague…

Your coach, colleague, or friend would say something different:

  • ‘It’s going to go well. Stay focused.’
  • ‘You’ve prepared well, and are a smart person.’
  • ‘You have great skills and loads of resources to call on. You’ll deal with events.’

Aren’t these better? Of course they are.

And these are the things you can say to yourself.

In fact, since no-one can hear the voice in you head (honestly, not even the NSA), why not go further? Why not become your own motivational monster?

  • ‘You’re great. You’re the best. This is going to be fabulous.’
  • ‘You are fantastic at what you do, and your preparation was awesome.’
  • ‘You are a brilliant Project Manager, and can control whatever comes up.’

Visualization

It turns out from experiments, that your brain struggles to distinguish fantasy from reality. Yes, we all know people like that!

But, if you create a clear enough set of images in your mind, it can fool your brain into treating them as memories.

So, a fabulous way to prepare for tricky situations is to play them through in your mind in advance. Visualize them going well. Imagine yourself performing brilliantly.

The more realistic and detailed you make your visualizations, the better. And, play them through a few times. Once you have done tit a couple of times with everything going well, introduce some complications. Imagine some of the events or reactions that concern you. And visualize yourself handling them well.  you do this, you will start to feel more confident.

But, perhaps more important, when you find yourself in the real situation, your brain will associate it with success. because it has a set of ‘made up memories’ that tell it that you can feel confident here.

Physiology
…or, if you have trouble saying that, remember to get ‘fizzy’

It should not amaze you that, not only does your brain control your body… But your body controls your brain. After all, the nerves that connect your brain to your body also connect back the other way.

And you know that how you feel affects the way you stand, sit, and move. You can see when someone arrives at work, if there is something wrong. They move slower and seem to hunch up. Or maybe everything is great for someone, and you can sense a spring in their step and see a light in their eye.

Now, here’s the thing…

When you feel confident, you have one set of postures, gestures, facial expressions and ways of moving. And, when you lack confidence, you have a completely different set. Your brain affects your body.

But, because your body also affects your brain, you can alter your levels of confidence by shaking up your body. Stand tall. Open up your body, smile, move energetically. These deliberate movements are those of a confident person. When you do them, your brain starts to pick up signals from your body. And, these signals say ‘confidence!’

Behaviors: How to Convey Confidence

How you behave communicates a lot to the people around you. And that means it can communicate either confidence, or a lack of it. So, to close this article, let’s look at three deliberate behaviors you can adopt. Each of these on its own says ‘confident’ to the people around you. In combination, all three together with your physiology say ‘CONFIDENT!’

Preparedness

There are two things that matter here, in conveying confidence to the people around you:

  1. To be well-prepared for what you are about to do
    This means taking the time to read, listen, practice, or learn, so that you are fully in command of your brief
  2. To look well-prepared for what you are about to do
    This means being organized, having your papers, materials, or tools ready, and arriving in good time

When people see you as prepared for whatever is about to happen, it gives them confidence and they project that onto you.

Deliberateness

The second step is to be deliberate in what you do. Don’t allow yourself to be unnecessarily rushed. Take your time.

What this doesn’t mean, however, is that you prevaricate and delay action.

But slowing down, listening to ideas with care, making notes, and thinking things through are all signs that you are comfortable in the situation. Preparedness helps here too. Prepare by thinking through how you will deal with the little details. This will allow you to come across as unhurried.

Compare the alternative: you are flustered and rushed, because you are not well-prepared and you feel the pressure as a need to rush. Never under-estmimate the impact of slowing down.

Economy

Two things that people do when they are nervous and lack confidence is they:

  1. fidget
  2. talk a lot

So, it’s no surprise that if you deliberately do the opposite, you will appear confident.

Economy of Movement

Slow down and become still. Control your impulse to fidget. Find a posture that is comfortable and confident-looking. And stay farly still.

I don’t mean become rigid like a statue. That’s just weird.

Economy of Words

The easiest way is to say less is to listen more. But there is another technique you can use. Confine your comments to one of these:

  • New insights that add to what people have said, once everyone else has contributed
  • A summary of what people have said, once everyone else has contributed
  • A decision, set of instructions, or allocation of roles

What are Your Tips and Advice for being More Confident as a Project Manager?

We love hearing from our community of readers and learners. And we reply to every comment we get, so do use the comments below to tell us your experiences of confidence as a PM, or to ask questions about tis article.

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About the Author Mike Clayton

Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 13 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to ProjectManager.com and Project, the journal of the Association for Project Management. Between 1990 and 2002, Mike was a successful project manager, leading large project teams and delivering complex projects. In 2016, Mike launched OnlinePMCourses.

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