How project managers can build resilience

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Gillian Jones-Williams’ mother is a manic-depressive. It made her childhood very difficult – she was kicked out of school for acting up, scraped through a few exams, and ended up working in recruitment, where she thrived through her natural communication skills.

She ended up becoming self-employed after sticking up for the company receptionist after a sexual harassment incident – she had fired the harasser while the managing director was on holiday, and upon their return, the harasser tried to woo him back. “I ended up saying, ‘I can't work for a company that condones sexual harassment.’ He replied: ‘You have to make your choice.’ And I said, ‘Well, that is my choice.’”

Jones-Williams then became a careers coach, helping individuals to determine their own strengths and build their confidence and resilience. “I spend a lot of time with project managers, and I know what it’s like.” she told delegates at the APM Women in Project Management Conference (WiPM). “It's tense. You start a new project with feelings of excitement and joy, and as the project goes on, those feelings start to wane a little bit and the feelings of panic and anxiety grow.”

As a result, it’s important for project managers to practice resilience. Dr Clara Cheung, Lecturer in Project Management at the University of Manchester who also spoke at WiPM, identified resilience as an important factor in mental health and wellbeing based on her new research which was sponsored by the Association for Project Management (APM).

Some people are inherently resilient, but it can be learned. “It’s about having a growth mindset. It’s about seeing things as opportunities to grow. Everyday is a test. It doesn't matter if you pass or fail, you'll get another test tomorrow,” Jones-Williams said.

Don’t personalise

Martin Seligman, an American psychologist, has done several studies on resilience. He speaks about the tendency for people to personalise failure and blame ourselves for anything that goes wrong. “We take it home with us and we carry it for a long time, and it can become a permanent mindset,” he said. It’s important to talk it out with someone or if you notice a team member under pressure it might be worth asking them how they are.

Avoid limiting beliefs

Limiting beliefs are the things we think about ourselves that can hold us back. It can fuel things like imposter syndrome, preventing us from applying for jobs, or bouncing back when something goes wrong. But you can change that mindset, says Jones-Williams. “We programme our brain to tell ourselves we will be good, we will be alright, this will work, and change how we feel.”

Prioritise

“If we're not able to prioritise things and make sure that we are putting our energy where we need to put them, then life gets very, very tough for us,” says Jones-Williams “Being able to really manage expectations is critical.”

Be mindful

Being mindful is all about taking the time to relax, re-energise and reframe your thoughts. “It’s really important for resilience,” says Jones-Williams. “If we can learn to spend one hour really mindfully, whether with friends, parents or loved ones, it’s worth more than spending three hours looking at our phones. You’ll actually feel a lot better doing it.” You can also practice mindfulness in the workplace and open the conversation about mental health.

A simple exercise is to breathe in to a count of four, hold for a count of two and breathe out to another count of four. By really focusing on your breathing, it can help clear your mind – give it time, your thoughts won’t stop racing straight away. Don’t fight those racing thoughts; let them pass and go back to your breathing. Taking on a hobby that takes some concentration (without being too taxing) can have a similar effect – it’s why colouring books for adults have become so popular in recent years.

Further resources

Brought to you by Project journal.

Image: VectorMine/Shutterstock.com

Mark Rowland

Posted by Mark Rowland on 10th Oct 2019

About the Author

Mark Rowland is a senior writer on the Project editorial team. He has worked as a business journalist and editor for 15 years, and has won awards for his writing and editing. He has also worked in project and product management, overseeing the launch and continuous development of new websites and publications. Project is the official journal of the Association for Project Management (APM).

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