Tips for Project Managers in High-stakes Sectors

Byon February 16#business-tips
Tips for Project Managers in High-stakes Sectors

Working in a high-stakes sector, from the government to law enforcement to public health, can be enormously rewarding. You enjoy the immense satisfaction of knowing that your work truly makes a difference in the community, the nation, and the world.

But the pace and the pressure of such high-stakes work can quickly get the best of even the most resilient, dedicated, and passionate of people. And that’s why, when you are a project manager in such a sector, it’s incumbent to pay particular attention to the needs of your team — and to your own physical, mental, and emotional well-being.

This article provides essential tips every project manager working in a high-stakes sector needs to know to maintain optimal team performance while protecting the health and safety of all.

Optimizing Workflow and Communication

No matter the industry, successful project managers are always those who possess both the patience and the foresight to plan ahead. Indeed, learning how to eat the elephant one bite at a time is fundamental to effective project management.

And that’s why, when you’re leading teams in high-stakes sectors, the first order of business is to create a robust action plan. This plan should be designed to ensure that your team reaches its long-term goals and also that it is equipped with the tools needed to circumvent or overcome any obstacles encountered along the way.

At the heart of this process is workflow optimization. When project managers seek to optimize workflow, what they’re doing, fundamentally, is defining the incremental milestones required to bring the end goal to fruition. At the same time, they’re outlining the most efficient and effective processes needed to achieve each individual milestone.

Workflow optimization enables you to outline the most effective trajectory toward the completion of your goal, and it also requires you to define communication flows and task stakeholders. By optimizing your workflow, you’re more likely to eliminate redundancies, superfluities, and other inefficiencies in your project development plan.

At the same time, you will clarify and expedite the flow of information, particularly by defining status reporting processes and designating point persons/stakeholders for each task.

The Critical Role of Risk Management

A project manager’s most important responsibility is effectively managing risk. This is especially critical in high-stakes sectors. When you’re leading a project team in a high-stakes industry, the failure to manage risks might result not only in financial losses or a tarnished brand. Rather, the consequences can be far direr, including the potential loss of lives and the destruction of property.

This is why it is incumbent upon project managers to conduct comprehensive risk analyses throughout all stages of the project lifecycle. This should include the ongoing assessment of evolving physical, location, technological, and human risks.

This might include the identification of potential hazards to which your team may be exposed when completing a designated project task. Public health project teams, for instance, are likely to find themselves in areas where they may be exposed to infectious or environmental pathogens. At the same time, when project teams are faced with extended shifts and heavy workloads, the resulting fatigue can significantly increase the risk of human error. 

Likewise, when an emergency preparedness team is activating a preemptive response to a natural disaster, such as an impending hurricane landfall, technology risks are a concern. Downed power lines, cell towers, and communication networks can pose a significant threat, requiring project managers to develop, and fully brief the team on, contingency plans.

Ultimately, risk management is a continuous process of assessment, adjustment, reassessment, and, as needed, readjustment as threats evolve and new ones emerge.

The Importance of Mental Health

Working and leading in a high-stakes sector can be incredibly fulfilling. But the demands on mind, body, and spirit can also be immense. The long hours, chronic stress, and sometimes painful outcomes of the work can take a profound toll, putting team members, as well as the managers leading them, at risk of burnout.

The simple reality is that the human mind and body can withstand only so much pressure before they begin to rebel. And that rebellion often comes in the form of burnout, which may manifest in a variety of ways from depression and anxiety to loss of motivation to increased illness to decline in performance.

Because of this, effective project management, particularly in high-stakes sectors, is often a function of robust mental health practices. Instituting robust mental health programs for your team can support your employees in cultivating a healthier work/life balance, recognizing the signs of burnout, and seeking help.

In addition to implementing programs to foster mental wellness during your team’s off-hours, it’s also important to provide on-the-job resources to support self-care. This might include quiet rooms to which employees can retreat when work-related stresses threaten to overwhelm them. Likewise, providing your employees with the option to take a “mental health day” when needed or to work remotely when feasible can significantly boost productivity, performance, and morale. 

Above all, it’s important to remember that, as a project manager, you are your team’s best role model, as well as the glue that holds the team together. This means that protecting your own mental health is just as important as fostering the mental well-being of your employees. 

So take care to practice what you preach in regard to physical, emotional, and psychological wellness. Be diligent in cultivating a healthy work/life balance for yourself and your team will likely feel more comfortable following suit. Similarly, inviting open and honest conversations about mental health, especially in the aftermath of an adverse event or crisis, can help create a culture of destigmatization and proactive self-care.

The Takeaway

Being a leader in a high-stakes sector is never easy. However, there are things project managers in these fields can do to protect themselves, their teams, and the clients and stakeholders they serve. The key, ultimately, is to prioritize workflow and communication, embrace continuous risk management, and cultivate a culture of mental and physical well-being. This includes destigmatizing mental illness while promoting robust self-care and a healthy work/life balance.

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