Are you a Smart PM or a Wise Project Manager?

Guest post by Mike Clayton, author of “Smart to Wise”

Smart or wise; what?s the difference?

I think we all know smart when we see it and I will stick my neck out (though not too far) and suggest that all or at the very least, the vast majority of PM Student readers are smart.? If you are smart, you can get by, you can adapt, you are adept at operating in the environment you occupy and people feel you can get things done and make a difference.? You can probably also sense which way the wind is blowing and you will certainly want to invest to take advantage of future opportunities.

A word that often goes with ?smart? is ?savvy?.? Savvy comes from the French verb ?savoir? which means ?to know?.? So if you are smart and savvy, then you know stuff ? which is great.? But how do you use that knowledge?

In Smart to Wise, I define wisdom as:

?the ability to use your knowledge well?

That has to be an asset for a project manager.? I also define seven pillars upon which wisdom is built.? In this blog, I will summarise one way in which each applies to project management.

1: Self-Mastery

One aspect of self-mastery is knowing what you want, so that you can focus on that.? This ought to put this firmly in the grasp of any smart PM, but another aspect is be able to practice detachment.? This is not about taking a laissez-faire, don?t-care attitude to your project, however.? That would be disengagement.

Detachment is about not becoming emotionally entangled with your project to such an extent that you lose your objectivity.? Worse still, if you become too attached, then you risk your own sense of self becoming entangled? so that, if your project succeeds, you see it as an intimate reflection of yourself and, should it fail, you lose your resilience and your ability to take it as a learning experience and move on with your life.

At the higher levels of project management, I would argue that personal resilience is one of the skills that marks out the difference between a competent project manager and an exceptional project leader.

2: Perception

The ability to use all of your senses to make an acute evaluation of the evidence before you is vital.? Project managers swim in a sea of data, opinions and personalities and when you can synthesise all of this into an accurate assessment of what is happening and an insightful forecast of what is coming up, people will look to you for advice and guidance.

3: Evolution

If you are PM Student, then this is already a part of your mind-set: the drive to learn, develop and grow.? However, too many PMs get past their exams, settle into a PM role and then see themselves as able to harvest their investment and stop learning.? After all, they are project managers: so they are too busy.

But the harvest metaphor is instructive.? If you harvest but do not till and fertilise and sow later in the year, very soon, the soil will soon become barren.? As a PM, you must never stop learning ? and not just from within the project management discipline.? For true wisdom, you need breadth of ideas and inspiration, from the arts, the humanities, from science and contemporary culture, as well as from technology and industry.

4: Conduct

As a project manager, you will spend much of your time out in front of your team and representing a chunk of your organisation or client to some other people.? What could matter more than the standards of conduct you model in your own actions and encourage in others??

5: Judgement

Good judgement will be an essential capability in any walk of life and if your job includes making decisions or advising others, as it does for a PM, then critical thinking skills are at a premium.? one particular area of judgement that is especially relevant to PMs, however, is your ability to forecast, and in our domain, that means planning.

Wisdom means being able to use your experience and the evidence to arrive at a robust plan, rooted in rational assumptions based on careful analysis of reliable data.? In particular, you need to be able to avoid ?planning fallacy? ? the tendency to believe your plans once you have created them.? No matter how careful you have been in preparing your plan, refuse to be seduced into believing it is anything more than the best set of assumptions that were available to you at the time of planning.

6: Fairness

How you treat people is a choice.? Fairness is a choice.? We know that people respond best when they feel a sense of fairness in the way that they are treated so, to get the best from your team, you must stay aware of potential imbalances in the expectations you put on people and how those expectations relate to the rewards that that people receive.? When your team do good work, recognise it, celebrate it, and thank the people concerned.

7: Authority

The final pillar is authority and, as the day-to-day decision-maker, the project team?s leader and controlling mind who deploys resources and instructs individual team members, you cannot operate without it.? Elements of authority include your political nous, your ability to influence and persuade and the inspiration you give.

Book Contest!

As we did with my book ?Risk Happens!?, Josh and I are inviting comments about this posting and, in a month or so, we?ll judge which is the most insightful and wise.? I?ll then send a copy of Smart to Wise to that contributor.

  • How would you characterise the difference between smart and wise?
  • How do these seven pillars apply in your work environment?
  • What are the elements of wisdom for you?
  • What are your examples of smart behaviour by PMs? and of wise behaviour?