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What my latest project taught me about wellbeing

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My current project has really got me thinking about mental health. It’s a project to better understand how the University of London deals with a student death, and how we can improve policies and processes around that. We’re looking at everything from accidental deaths to natural causes, but suicide is also an area we need to address.

While my project is basically about working out a response if something has gone wrong, it got me thinking how important it is to address what to do before something happens. And how we can help the staff members and students that have to deal with a student death. It can have a big impact on them. When we talk about our responsibilities, we need to make sure we know who is caring for the carer. The position of a carer is a unique one- they may be encountering something that no one else around them may appear to be encountering. Certain caring responsibilities of my own over the last years helped me to get a more rounded understanding of what wellbeing meant.

We all have common challenges

As project managers, we have twin wellbeing responsibilities. We must protect the wellbeing of our team, but also, like carers, we must take responsibility for ourselves, too.

I did a lot of research into wellbeing off the back of this project, and I discovered that we all encounter the same basic set of challenges in our lives. We will feel challenged or overwhelmed by our work at some point. We all have to deal with grief, the adjustment of big life changes. What matters is how we respond to it.

Get to know yourself

We need to get to know ourselves: what are our strengths and weaknesses? What gets us out of bed every day? By understanding your own strengths, you can channel them into your projects.

We also need to know our teams – assess their strengths, weaknesses and pressures. While you shouldn’t put too much emphasis on them (I always attach a health warning around potentially putting people into a box), psychometric tests are a good way to find out more about your team. I use the VIA Institute’s strengths survey, which is free. It gives you a good foundation for mapping out your team’s individual strengths, and how you can shape the project around them. For example, if you know that one member of your team thrives on detailed work, you can give them a big piece of research to do. Let them run with it.

Empower and delegate more… and listen and tune in

It’s also important to empower team members. Higher levels of autonomy are linked with better wellbeing, so delegate more. Invest in staff development – one source of good wellbeing is having self-assurance and confidence in your skills. That comes from having knowledge and resources available to you.

We must be generous leaders: give up your time for your team and the people around you. You need to be very aware of what’s going on in your workplace. Tune into your environment.

Sometimes the going does get tough. In my research for the project, I learned from the mental health first aid realm that when a practitioner speaks with someone who is in distress, they let that person talk. By giving them that space and really listening, it can help to turn the whole situation around. It’s why we must develop our empathy and use it when managing projects.

With the increasing use of artificial intelligence (AI) and automation, we are working remotely more and more. That makes collaboration and empathy even more important. If we tune in and work together with an awareness of our strengths and the strengths of our team, we can nurture a healthier and happier work environment, and this is reflected in project outcomes. 

Further resources

Brought to you by Project journal.

Image: Benjavisa Ruangvaree Art/


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