The Project Manager’s Toolbox

What do you do?

It’s a question with which we’re all too familiar. Unfortunately, after six years, I still haven’t found a concise way to describe my job title. Other agency disciplines can be consolidated into a single action verb: creatives create, strategists strategize, producers produce. Project managers manage projects? The ambiguity of our job title only lends itself to the confused stares I get when I try and articulate what it is I do. Every time I describe my job title and responsibilities to my mom, she just shrugs and says, “I don’t know, I just tell people you’re in marketing…it’s easier.” #ThanksMom.

Ultimately, the ambiguity behind my job title is what I love the most about it. We wear multiple hats throughout any given day, and each of us has our own set of unique skills and tools that make us successful in our craft. To better illustrate, why don’t I let you take a peek inside my toolbox?


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Never let ’em see you sweat. Keep calm and carry on.

Remaining calm under pressure is arguably the most important tool to have. As the last line of defense, we have to remain a pillar of strength, because once you lose it, it can affect the whole team. People feed off negativity and stress, and if I freak out, it gives everyone permission to freak out. (Don’t get the wrong idea: It is never easy to remain composed when all you want to do is freak out.) The key is to remain focused on finding a solution and communicating next steps to all parties involved while staying positive and upbeat.

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You’re going to be taking risks and stepping outside your comfort zone. Buckle up.

The world of digital advertising is ever-evolving and constantly forcing you to update your own software. As a project manager, we have to constantly update our digital knowledge and sharpen our skill set to grow. You wouldn’t jump out of a plane without a parachute, just like you wouldn’t kick off a new mobile app platform without doing your research first. Taking that first leap can be terrifying, knowing that you probably won’t be able to execute it to perfection. As a project manager, our safety harness is knowledge. With it, we can have a larger conversation and help educate other team members on the possibilities that are out there. I would highly recommend using the proper safety precautions when taking a leap. Unless you’re Bear Grylls.

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Brass Knuckles

Preferred over the obvious “train conductor” reference.

We’re only talking metaphorically about cracking skulls and do not promote actual violence as a key to success. Sure, you don’t have to be tough as nails, but you do have to crack the whip (at the appropriate times) to keep the project on time and on budget. Teams will respect you more for being open and honest rather than finding out too late there’s a roadblock. They should know that you are here to work and get things done. And when we successfully launch a website, then we can bust out the baked goods and beverages.

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Cat-Like Reflexes

Ignore the obvious allusion to the word “agile”…

A great project manager must be an acrobat. In a matter of minutes, we jump through hoops and leap over lava floors when the scope of a project changes. You have to be quick and always remain at least one step ahead. You can’t be afraid of the dark or unknown. I don’t ever want to be lazy or complacent in my role, and instead remain constantly on the hunt for new ideas, new trends and new possibilities. With the ever-changing landscape that is digital, you must have the ability to adapt. Project management is about flexibility. We can’t choose to see the world in only black and white because there will always be gray. Fun fact: Did you know cats don’t blink?

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A Stiff Drink

Served with a side of short-term memory loss.

Concepts end up in client feedback purgatory, steps get overlooked in a process, tempers flare, projects go over budget. It happens, and it’s going to happen again. What matters is how you choose to handle it and come back the next day with a positive attitude to do it all over again. Do whatever you need to do to decompress. We are fortunate to work in a culture that embraces the pursuit of a personal life. Happy people make happy employees.


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Project managers have the unique ability to “open up” the more difficult projects that need a little extra help, whether it be gathering specs, putting the right resources in place or identifying potential red flags ahead of time. However, be forewarned that not including a project manager early in the process might result in a nasty situation when you try and do it yourself. You can cut your hand or, worse, ruin that fine bottle of wine with floating cork friends.

We rely on multiple systems of software and technology that enhance our agency productivity and communication, but the most important tool that we have is ourselves. The ability to communicate face to face with a team and establish trusting relationships is the foundation of project management. It is equal parts project management and people management, and both are crucial to the success of the agency process. My toolbox is a constant work in progress as I navigate between projects and apply those learnings and experiences to my role as a project manager.

What tools are in your toolbox?



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