Four Archetypes of Project Managers

Embracing your role and knowing how to use it.

It takes a village to bring a project from concept to execution and no one knows this better than a project manager. Project managers are the red thread throughout the process, with the unique position of balancing client expectations with internal implementation. That’s a lot of people to please, all a lot of competing interests.

There are many ways of approaching the challenges that come along with project management, and they all have their merits as well as their faults. When these approaches are dialed in right, a project manager can be your team’s greatest asset.


The Perfectionist // The devil is in the details.

Striving for perfection is core to a project manager’s position and, a journey most maddening. The idea that a client’s need will be the same on day 1 as it is on launch day is a fallacy. Yet, we project managers cling to our scopes of work like it’s the bible, seeking black and white clarity in a process that is very much gray. Hold on to that scope too tight though, and you’re bound to drown in the details of day-to-day production and become so inflexible to change, your world will feel cataclysmically rocked at the first sign of trouble.

This doesn’t mean there isn’t an important place for perfection. Striving for the best solution is what keeps our ambition high and work ethic unparalleled. Bringing structure to chaos is an invaluable trait, so long as you’re willing to reorganize that structure time, and time again. A project manager’s ability to see past the gray area (or maybe ignore it on occasion) comes in handy when decisiveness is needed to keep the work moving forward.

The Boss // Are you taking me seriously?

Let’s be honest for a moment — most of a project manager’s day can feel like we’re swimming against the current. We deal with clients that care too much, or sometimes not at all; designers that go off the rails and make 20 widgets when you only asked for 5 (exactly. five.); and strategists who try to boil the ocean when all you need is a drop. We’re constantly cracking the whip, pulling the plug on the good time everyone was having, and bringing the focus back to business. Project managers are not afraid to be the fun-suckers of the group and getting a little feisty. Abuse that power too much, however, and your intensity and passion may make your team turn against you.

There are benefits to being a little scary when you need to. Your hyper-focus on the end goal is what orients the project from beginning to end, and serves your team well when things get a little off course. Being straightforward with clients and your internal team can save a lot of time and get to the heart of the important work. Being decisive and confident in your approach will gain you respect, so long as you don’t forget that at the end of the day, we’re all people just trying to do our best.

The Dreamer // Anything is possible!

When working in a creative industry imagination is a prerequisite. Clients buy ideas that excite them, ideas that have never been done before, ideas surpass what they ever thought possible. We let our team dream big, often times presenting things we’ve actually never done before. We tell ourselves, of course, we can become experts overnight! Of course, we can get it done in half the time for half the price! And we’re so excited, nothing’s gonna stop us!…until we actually have to build it. (Oh wait, we actually have to build it?)

While much of a project manager’s role is rooted in the “how?”, we’re being tasked to come to the table with the “what?” more and more. We need to channel the creative juices that flow liberally at the start of the project, all the way through to completion. This isn’t just for idea generation, this is for creative problem-solving. Meeting those massive logistical challenges with a “can do” instead of a “can not”. This may be one of the most difficult challenges we face, but we face it every day. And believe or not, positive thinking can go pretty far! Just remember to say thanks for the favors you will inevitably ask for and return the gesture in kind.

The Bench Player // The floor is all yours.

Sometimes the limelight can be a little too bright. It’s more comfortable to observe before you act and assess the risk vs. reward. Maybe you’re outnumbered, or overshadowed by bigger and louder voices, so taking a back seat is the only way to get in on the action. Or maybe this really isn’t your arena but you’re just happy to be included. Whatever the case may be, you’re letting the rest of your team shine, at the ready to lead an assist. Then, a ball gets dropped, an innocuous detail gets forgotten — but it’s fine, the A Team’s got it, they know what they’re doing. But what happens when they don’t?

Contrary to popular belief, project managers don’t always have the answers. In fact, most of the time, we don’t. We rely on the expertise of everyone on our team to get to the right solution, even if that means taking a step back and letting someone else run the show. Being an active listener, observing when others take the lead, and being there to prop up your team’s work is just as valuable as being the one with all the answers. There are always opportunities to learn and add to your growing arsenal of knowledge. Most importantly, when the team succeeds, we succeed.


Which archetype are you?

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