Are You A Project Management Role Model or Mannequin?

In my very first project management job I had a good role model, which was fortunate because I really needed one. In my late 20s I thought I had all the answers and yet still hadn’t really settled on what it was that I was supposed to be doing in the world.

I’d go home at night disappointed with the things that I’d said and done. I’d be down about not achieving the goals I set myself. I’d talk about ambition and development and never really commit to it. I’d go to the gym in January and then to the pub February to December.

However, in my first project management job I got to see what ‘good’ looks like. Every day since then I’ve watched, learned, analysed, read, pondered and changed.

I learned in those early PM days that being a role model is hard work. It requires uniqueness, bravery, boldness, courage, new ideas, laughter and a commitment to continuous improvement. With it comes rewards. Not only financial, but more important things like respect, satisfaction, self-awareness, self respect and integrity.

It’s much easier to hit project targets as a role model too. People want to work with role models. They want to be around them. They want to better themselves and have fun while they’re doing it. They are invested in the outputs and want the organisation to achieve the things they talked about in the business case.

Becoming a role model will mean losing some of the people that you currently have around you, but that’s OK. American author Jim Rohn said that we’re the average of the five people we spend most time with, so if you’re a mannequin, it’s probably time to get some new friends. Or as American filmmaker John Waters put it in his book Role Models: ‘True success is figuring out your life and career so you never have to be around jerks.’

Here are the characteristics of a Role Model, as opposed to a Mannequin:

Mannequin Role Model
Gossips Says nice things behind people’s backs
Micro-manages Encourages autonomy
Generates apathy Inspires confidence
Takes credit Takes blame
Admonishes failure Praises effort
Builds fiefdoms Builds cultures
Accepts mediocrity Manages poor performance
Task focussed Human focussed
Uses jargon Makes things easy to understand
Tailors activity to their personality Tailors activity to the personalities of others
Afraid Bold
Has strong opinions Has strong values
Lacks self-awareness Knows how to behave
Tells Teaches
Out of touch At the cutting edge
Finds excuses Finds energy
Apportions blame Seeks feedback

Becoming a role model starts with knowing what you’re good at and what your opportunities for improvement are, then committing to being the very best version of yourself at all times. Never wavering, even when you’re tired, stressed or you know that you’ll be seen as a lone nut.

As Abraham Maslow once said: ‘Self knowledge and self-improvement is very difficult for most people, it usually needs great courage and a long struggle.’ By finding out what you can improve you’re already on the journey to being a role model. Don’t stop asking questions and taking action.

Project management needs more role models, can we count you in?

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