QUICK SHOT: Why do we need project managers?

What exactly does a Project Manager do? What’s their purpose in an organization? How can project management make nonprofit fundraising easier? 

I’ve been asked questions like these throughout my entire career in project management. Even though it’s often challenging to articulate exactly what a Project Manager does, it’s an important role for any organization who hopes to meet their deadlines – especially the ones that create and produce multiple projects at once.

Today, I want to share 3 project manager tips that I’ve learned over my career. These will help guide your team to meet your deadlines, maintain schedules and reach your nonprofit project goals. 

Even if you don’t have a Project Manager on your staff, you probably have someone (or maybe several people) who are assuming the role of a Project Manager. These 3 expert project management tips can help them too! 

  1. Be creative

Project Managers don’t write or design anything… in fact, we’re often perceived as the least “creative” people on earth. But that’s not the case! Project managers use their creativity everyday when they brainstorm, plan and schedule projects.  

Managing a project requires creativity because it means making the impossible happen. For example… what do you do if a client is out of town, unavailable to approve a time-sensitive newsletter? Or what happens when a job on a tight deadline has to go through a whole round of unexpected redesign? Time to get creative! 

Scenarios like these require extra time in the schedule that your team may or may not have. An experienced Project Manager is one step ahead, prepared with a backup plan and a creative scheduling solution so that your team can miraculously still make their deadlines. 

Tip: Always plan for unexpected events, stay up-to-date on all projects across your organization, and understand which are the most time consuming and/or difficult for your team. That way, you can anticipate schedule changes, better accommodate hiccups and make sure they meet those deadlines!

  1. Be a negotiator

Unlike procurement or production managers, Project Managers don’t negotiate with vendors to get pricing or deals for the agency. But they do in fact negotiate… all day long!

Everyone wants more time to work on their projects, right? What happens when an 8-week project expands into a 12-week project without moving the final due date? Or when multiple projects are due on the same day, but a writer or designer can’t work on all of them? It’s time to negotiate with the rest of your team about their projects, and adjust the timeline for flexible projects accordingly. 

I recently watched a Master Class called “The Art of Negotiation” by Chris Voss and learned that negotiation means collaboration. It’s not about winning, but about finding the best solution for all. 

That’s what Project Managers do. We’re the “hub” of the workplace, constantly finding that happy medium where all teams can work together seamlessly and efficiently without missing a deadline. Sounds like fun, right?

Tip: Don’t be afraid to negotiate with your team about their capacities, priorities and project deadlines. Approach conversations with grace, understanding that there’s always a happy medium to be found. 

  1. Honor your clients (aka your internal team)

Project managers don’t interact with clients’ accounts like agency directors or strategists do. But they do have their own clients – an organization’s internal staff! 

One of my mentors once told me, “We need to treat other departments within the company as our internal clients.”  While Project Managers may seem to be hyperfocused on due dates, a good Project Manager always wants to understand the scope of work and the products we’re offering. 

While you may not read all the creative briefs or attend brainstorming meetings, if you’re managing a project, it’s still essential that you understand project goals and deliverables in order to build the best schedule. These skills are similar to those required on a client service resume, but an expert Project Manager applies them to their internal team members.  

Tip: Listen to your team members’ concerns about schedules, products or timelines – just like an Account Executive would listen to their clients. Take time to understand their workflow and communication style, and use that knowledge to build schedules that are specialized for your team!

  • Carol Li, Director of Project Management

    Carol Li, Senior Director of Project Management

    Carol brings 20 years of experience in the field of project management. She started her career in cable advertising and her organizational talents soon led her to the traffic department… where everything clicked into place. Her first agency job was as a project manager for the United Mileage Plus account. She’s also worked on nonprofit accounts including Salvation Army, Red Cross, Habitat and Lutheran Ministries.

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