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Calm in the storm: exercising resilience

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Forgive me for starting with some sweeping generalisations about three key personality traits of project professionals, but I hope you’ll be able to relate.  

First, we tend to like order; we think in frameworks, plans, phases and milestones.  

Second, we are usually pretty good problem solvers; using a range a methodologies and tools to achieve project objectives.  

Third, we understand the importance of communication; both in keeping a project moving and to ensuring successful completion. 

This all means that some of us will use a spreadsheet to arrange a get together with friends (surely this not just me?), while others take steps to minimise risk, checking distances, routes and planned travel disruption when selecting a date and location that is accessible to everyone, now scattered around various towns and cities. 

Our friends will mock us for it, but they’ll thank us for actually making it happen! 

But I digress, when it comes to our work, these traits are of huge benefit, but they can also become obstacles if they aren’t combined with the equally important skill of resilience. Like many, I believe that resilience is not intrinsic, it can be learned, and it must be practiced to be effective. There are many elements which make up resilience, two important factors for project managers are acceptance and flexibility. 

Acceptance and flexibility  

We must accept that change is inevitable in any project. Timelines will shift, scope may be adjusted and unexpected risks may appear. How we deal with these, and countless other challenges that may arise, will not only impact the project itself but also, and for me most importantly, the people working on it. We should accept that we won’t immediately have all the answers, but by acknowledging this and committing to finding solutions, we show resilience. 

As project managers we’re often relied upon to lead the way in facing and solving issues that arise. That means for all our carefully crafted plans, we must remain flexible. If we’re fortunate, some small adjustments may be all that’s needed. We must be willing and able to shift the order of tasks around. We might need to use different tools and when one application simply isn’t working, we’ll find another.  

Where the issues are more fundamental, we need to be able to think around the problem and sometimes find an alternative route to the destination. Provided we still have an agreed objective that we’re working towards, we can adapt. That doesn’t mean our original plan was “wrong”. We mustn’t be too hard on ourselves; resilience doesn’t mean taking everything squarely on our shoulders. We can re-plan and restore order. 

Those working on the project will likely look to us for reassurance though. When things get tough, we need to ensure that for the team we’re working with, we are the calm in the storm. That can look different depending on the individual and the situation of course. It’s not necessarily a defiant stoicism, but a positive mindset is certainly a huge and welcome asset.  

There are many techniques we can learn which will help us develop the skills which lead to greater resilience. Ultimately, like any skills, the more we exercise them, the more we will master and use them.  


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