29 April, 2019

Mentoring Skills: How to Mentor a More Junior Project Manager

In last week’s article, we invited guest author, Elizabeth Harrin to look at mentoring from the point of view of how to find yourself a mentor. This week, we’ll see it from the other angle.

In this article, we’ll examine the skills you need, to mentor another, more junior, project manager. This article is therefore a companion to our article on coaching: ‘How Coaching Skills will Make You a BetterProject Leader’.

We’ll explore four aspects:

  1. Why you should become a mentor
  2. What your mentoring role would be
  3. Whether you’re ready for a mentoring role
  4. How to do it well

Why Mentoring Other Project Managers is Worth Your Time

At its simplest, mentoring supports professional growth and development… for both of you. So you should mentor others as a way to:

  • pay back what you gained earlier in your career
  • deepen your own project management understanding

Why People will Come to You for Mentoring

Other project managers may want a wide range of different things from a mentoring relationship with you Some of the obvious examples include:

  • Career guidance
  • Professional skills development
  • Problem-solving
  • Building effective workplace relationships
  • Navigating politics and complex inter-personal issues
  • Access to advice, challenge, or just a symathetic ear

A good mentor can instil self-confidence and self-reliance in an inexperienced professional. And for someone with more experience, they can act as a sounding board for the cmplex and challenging decisions a project manager often faces.

Are you looking for a mentor?

Check out our article, ‘How to Get Yourself a Project Management Mentor’.

But what’s really in it for you, as a mentor?

What You can Get from Being a Mentor

Mentoring Skills: How to Mentor a More Junior Project Manager

There are a lot of lists you can find on the web that will tell you mentoring others will enhance your career and professionalism, by developing your:

  • Ability to articulate professional knowledge
  • Job role and hence increasing workplace fulfilment and job satisfaction
  • Communication skills and political nous
  • Leadership, teaching, and facilitation skills

And all f those are true. But from my personal experience, mentoring has more to offer the mentor.

A Career Place-marker

Being in a position to help someone else is a way to pay-back some of the help you had along the way. And I felt a real sense that, in being able to do that, I had reached an important stage in my career. I was no longer a ‘beginner’ and had something to offer my professional community.

They say it is better to give than to receive. With mentoring, it certainly does feel that way.

They say it is better to give than to receive. With #mentoring, it certainly does feel that way. Share on X

A Source of Pride and Confidence

And, the act of mentoring someone gave me a source of pride in my ability to help them, and a confidence that my career was moving forward. Sometimes I surprized myself with the questions I asked and the advice I was able to offer.

That’s not a brag. I think you would too. And the confidence you’ll get from being able to help is tremendous.

What is Mentoring?

The origin of the word ‘Mentor’ is in Homer’s Odyssey. Mentor is an old amnd wise friend of the hero Odysseus. When Odyssyseus leaves for the Tojan war, he charges Mentor with teaching his son, Telemachus, everything he knows.

Mentor is the teacher. Mentoring is imparting your own experience and wisdom to another, so they may grow-up a better person.

David Clutterbuck founded the European Coaching and Mentoring Council. in his book, ‘Everyone Needs a Mentor’ (US|UK), he describes mentoring as being…

when an older, more experienced individual passes down knowledge of how the task is done and how to operate in the commercial world.

David Clutterbuck: ‘Everyone Needs a Mentor’

So, mentoring supplements the mentee’s resources with the mentor’s own knowledge, experience, and insights.

And How is Mentoring Different from…

This all begs a couple of questions. How does mentoring differ from coaching and counselling?


Coaching focuses less on the experience and knowledge of the mentor or coach, and more on those of the person being coached. The role of a coach is to help them access their own resources and insights.

However, there is a lot of overlap, especially in the skills each needs and the tools available to a coach and to a mentor. The distinction is, perhaps, a little academic. I ruth, many coaches offer a measure of mentoring. ANd many mentors take a coaching role when they feeel it will best help their mentee.


Like coaching and mentoring, counselling is another person-centered approach to helping. But it tends to focus more directly on personal problems. A counsellor will listen and try to help someone get their life on the track they desire.

But, yet again, as a mentor, you may be called upon to act as a confidant and advisor on some pretty deep issues. A useful boundary line to draw is between these clear extremes:

  • Helping your mentee fulfil their potential (mentoring)
  • Guiding them through emotional and psycholical difficulties (counselling)

Mentoring and Potential

There’s a big role for a mentor to play building their mentee’s confidence in their own abilities and potential. An excellent model is Timothy Gallwey’s Performance Equation:

Timothy Gallwey - Performance Equation

I think that a mentor has a part to play in reducing the interference element of Timothy Gallwey’s Performance Equation. By offering insights and challenges a mentor can stretch their mentee and lead them to think in new ways and see new possibilities.

Types of Mentoring

Any guide to mentoring will try to classify different types or styles of mentoring – largely around the objectives it serves. If you are working with a more junior project manager, I’d say there are three main types. As always though, a good mentoring relationship will blur the boundaries and rove across all three:

  1. Performance Mentoring: with the principal objective of helping your mentee achieve the level of professional performance they are capable of. This is where Gallwey’s performance equation is particularly relevant.
  2. Developmental Mentoring: focused on helping your mentee gain the profesonal and technical skills they need to move their career forward. The mentor will often gve the benefit of their practical experience.
  3. Career Mentoring: all about helping the mentee move forward in their career. Often this includes a lotof conversation about the internal politics of your organzation and of the profession In some countries (like the USA), this includes a measure of career sponorship, where the mentor will directly support their mentor – even advocate for them. In the UK, this is less common.

Are You Ready to Become a Mentor?

Yes, of course you are. Next question.

Seriously, reverse mentoring is a thing too – in which more a junior mentor works with a more senir mentee. Here, they can bring a fresh perspective on issues. The reality is, we all have experience to share, questions to ask, and the ability to listen to someone and give them a little support and confidence.

So here are some questions that will help you gauge how ready you are to mentor someone:

  • Are you keen to help other, more junior project managers?
  • Do you have any knowledge and experiences they can benefit from?
  • Are you patient and able to listen in a non-judgemental way?
  • But, equally, are you prepared to challenge thir thinking critically?
  • Can you ask searching questions that help people see below the surface of their experiences?
  • Are you prepared to work hard to undestand a different point of view?
  • Do you have strong political and business acumen?
  • Do you have your own perspective on things and a sense of proportion?
  • … and, of course, good sense of humour?

A ‘How-to’ Guide to Mentoring Well

The starting point for an effective mentoring relationship will need to be a shared understanding of tyour purpose and how you will work together. The second part may evlve naturally, but you need to start with a clear purpose you both support.

This means that you both need to be clear about…

Your Role as a Mentor

And any good mentor will need to either get some training or commit to learning a little of the craft, through reading good quality articles or books. One favorite of mine is a short booklet, the Mentoring Pocketbook (US|UK).

David Clutterbuck has set out six roles of a mentor in a handy little acronym:

Mentoring - What Mentors Do - David Clutterbuck

Doing this well means arranging the logistics for your meeting. you want a comfortable and suitably confidential environment, that puts you both at ease.

This is important, because you’ll sometimes want to have frank discussions and tackle sensitive issues. You will also need to feel comfortable sharing some of the hard lessons you’ve earned from your career.

Setting-up the Mentoring Relationship

I’ll assume you’ve already agreed to work together. But your first ‘proper’ mentoring meeting is vital to set the tone. You don’t have to get it ‘all right’. But you do need put both of you at your ease.

So, think about:

  • Preparing an agenda in advance
  • Discussing a ‘Mentoring Agreement or Contract’. This may include things like:
    • Objectives
    • Confidentiality
    • How often you’ll meet, and for how long
    • Initial duration of the relationship
    • Style of cobnversation (and any boundaries)
    • Contact details
  • Some time to chat, just to get to know one-another and build rapport
  • Discussing how you’ll talk about sensitive issues and what to do if one of you is uncomfortable with a conversation

The Mentoring Relationship

There is no single way to approach the mentoring relationship, because every pair of people is different. But the Mentoring Pocketbook suggests you build it based on five scales:

  1. From Open to Closed: What range of topics are you boh willing to discuss? A broad, pen agenda, or a narrow, focused, closed agenda?
  2. From Public to Private: How much will other people around the mentee be aware that they are receiving mentoring and that you are their mentor?
  3. From Formal to Informal: How structured will your sessions and their planning be? Or will you just meet as and wehn the metnee requests a session?
  4. From Active to Passive: How active will the mentee be in creating their agenda and acting on your discsions? I’d suggest that, if they are too passive, it is a sign they are not benefitting from the relationship – or not willing-enough to invest in it.
  5. From Stable to Unstable: This is a state you rarely choose. If the relationship is stable, you can flex agenda and formality around current needs. And unstable relationship arises from insufficient trust, ad can become inconsistent and unrewarding for both of you.

A Model for a Mentoring Conversation

A clear structure to your meetings will help both of you orient yourselves – particularly in the early stages of your relationship.

A good basis for structuring your sessions is David Kolb and Roger Fry’s Experiential Learning Cycle.

Experiential Learning Cycle and Mentoring Conversations
  1. Ask about the experience your mentee wants to discuss
  2. Ask questions to help themreflect on what happened. Take care to elicit precse observations, rather than assumptions and inquire into possible meanings, causes, and interpretations.
  3. Help them to generalize their experience and leaning into a new understanding of the situation
  4. Ask about how this can apply in current and future circumstaces. Look for actions they can take to consolidate their learning and improve their performance.

Four Core Skills for Mentoring

There’s a long list of skills I could offer you, that make for a good mentor. However, you ought not be surprised that I am going to select the same four skills as I chose when I wrote about coaching, around a year ago!

So, I’ve made sure I tackle them in a new way.


You won’t get anywhere with your relationship until you have rapport. And that doesn’t just refer to mentoring!

This is about language, tone of voice, body language, and empathy. And let’s throw in some environmental factors like place, layout, lighting, and refreshments. All of this can put you both at your ease, help you get to know one another, and feel comfortable together.

Asking Questions

A great approach to questioning is the ‘funnel principle’. Start with wide, open questions, and work towards narrow, closed questions.

  • Open questions like ‘what?’ or ‘tell me about…’ encourage your mentee to explore a topic as they see fit.
  • Probing questions like ‘how?’ or ‘say some more about?’ allow you to focus the conversation on the areas you think important.
  • Closed questions that constrain answers like ‘who? when? or where?’ or ‘yes/no answers’ allow you to confirm facts.


Listening well is an advanced skill that we all assume we have. You need to shut off any other thoughts and concentrate on the other person. This is hard because your mentee won’t speak as fast as you can think. So it’s easy to fill your extra mental capacity with other thoughts:

  • why they are wrong
  • what you’ll say next
  • what you’re doing after the meeting
  • the shopping you need to get on your way home

Please don’t. Concentrate on your mentee. Giving someone a good, hard listening-to is the greatest gift we can bestow.

Holding the Silence

And when they stop speaking… Give them space to keep thinking.

Never be in a rush to say something. Your words will have more weight, the fewer of them you use. Remember taht, although your role is to provide straucture, knowledge, and insight, none of these are worth anything if your mentee doesn’t have space to think.

Please Share Your Experiences of Mentoring

Have you been a mentor? If so, what would your advice be to a new menntor? And, if not, what questions do you have for us?

Do contribute through the comments below, and we’ll be sure to respond.

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Mike Clayton

About the Author...

Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 14 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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