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Coping with Pressure as a Project Leader

Project management is undoubtedly a pressure-packed career – BUT – we cannot equate the pressures of the job to stress.   Experience has taught me that we create our own stress as project managers, and that this stress is destructive not only to our psyches, but also to our teams, our organizations and our stakeholders; ultimately; it is toxic to our projects.  I learned from a friend and widely acclaimed innovation expert (Greg Larkin), that STRESS = PRESSURE X DRAMA.  The real enemy is not pressure but drama.  When we introduce drama into our day-to-day activities, we inject a toxin which undermines the well-being of our projects.  It damages relationships and works against our personal and professional success.

Here is an example from my own experience.  I used to dread the “stress” of presenting change orders (contract variations) to my Fortune 500 customers on commercial construction projects.  That stress was self-induced, and it was very painful.  Yes, there was pressure to get the change orders approved.  The right approach, which I learned after years of frustration, would have been to focus my energies on doing the work necessary to substantiate the change orders technically, financially, and contractually.  My misplaced focus was on protecting my own self-image (for my clients and bosses) by proving that my change orders were “perfect”, instead of doing the best I could to produce a credible document with proper back-up.  This defensive approach was related to my insecurity as a project manager.  That inward focus resulted in unnecessary drama.

To summarize, once we remove drama from our jobs, we become more effective at what we do.  This applies especially to the people we manage and who trust us to do the right thing.  We must lead with empathy and eliminate drama from our interactions.  It is better for us to channel our energies on following best practices by eliminating drama and the fear and needless anger and negativity that drama brings.

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