Humility is an underrated trait of great leadership.
“There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.”Ernest Hemingway
Many traits make a great project manager: organizational skills, effective communication, attention to detail, negotiation and problem solving are widely recognized.
But humility is an often-overlooked trait that can be valuable when leading project teams.
Here’s why humility helps you as a project manager and leader:
1. The success of your project depends on information sharing
At the beginning of any project, you don’t have all the information needed.
You must look to your team to gather details on scope, dependencies, other systems that might be impacted, and potential risks. You’ll need information from others to develop an accurate budget and identify constraints. There may even be political or relationship considerations that could impact your project.
During project execution, you’ll continue to depend on others for information on roadblocks and unexpected risks.
You rely on others to collect this mountain of information, and humility fosters great relationships and better communication. If you project arrogance, others may be less inclined to be open with communications, whether it be for reasons of intimidation, resentment, or spite.
If you’re open and encouraging, team members will trust you and more freely share information that might impact your project.
2. Professional Reputation
If you’re disrespectful of your team members, they’ll resent you.
They’ll do the work needed for your project, but your reputation as someone they want to work with in the future will be damaged.
3. Continuous Professional Improvement
Continuous improvement only happens if you’re willing to acknowledge that you could grow and improve.
Humility is an important component – allowing you to not only be open to hearing feedback but to actively seek it out.
Listening and actually hearing what others say regarding how you could improve allows you to take advantage of those opportunities.
How to Demonstrate Humility
Following is a list of ways you can demonstrate humility throughout the life of your project, and beyond.
Praise team members for successes.
Team members – even if they know their work is great – enjoy knowing it’s been recognized and they’re appreciated.
Respect the team’s expertise in their individual areas.
You need input from the team to build the project plan, the schedule, and the budget. They understand details that are critical for a successful project. They have information you need and may not know.
For example, when building the schedule, team members will have the best understanding of how long it will take them to complete tasks for which they are responsible.
It’s not always possible to build a project schedule based solely on team members’ time estimates (constraints regarding when something must be delivered are a reality), but getting information from the team helps you build a more realistic project plan, and lets them know that they’re being heard and considered.
Throughout the project, listen to your team.
When they have information to share, take them seriously. Don’t disregard or discount information they give you. It may be something important you otherwise wouldn’t have access to. This can range from details about potential risks to vacation time that might impact your planning and execution.
Encourage teammates to speak up and share ideas.
Encourage team members to share insights and ideas. In meetings, there may be team members who are silent and fear being judged.
Create an environment of openness and acceptance.
When something goes wrong on a project, take responsibility for your role and look for ways to solve problems rather than blaming others.
Acknowledge your responsibility to the team, remove roadblocks, and help the team move forward.
Focus on the success of the project and team.
Rather than showing off or getting sole recognition for successes, give credit to team members who share a role in the success.
Admit when you don’t have the answers.
There will be a time when you don’t have answers. It is okay to admit it when you don’t have information.
Admit it, commit to finding it, and then follow through. You’ll gain respect from your team when you are honest and open.
“I’ve done a lot of work to get where I’m at, but I have to keep working.” –Wiz Khalifa
Approaching projects and teams with a bit of humility will allow you to continuously improve, work well with others, and be looked to as an effective leader. You’ll be known as a project manager that others look forward to working with.