How to Be a Confident Project Manager at Your Nonprofit

Project Road SignHave you ever found yourself walking into your boss’s office as a confident, successful, team member - ready to jump into the next assignment?   You get it. Then you walk out feeling scared, nervous, and wondering what just happened after your boss asked you to take charge and LEAD a new project?

Your boss must have had confidence in you, right? Probably because you’ve been successful and are good at what you do.

You may be thinking: "Me?  A... project manager? But, I’m not a project manager! Am I?"

You can do this, right??

Of course, you can!

Many people who have project management roles got there by accident. Most didn’t ask to manage a project.

Many project managers, especially those working in nonprofits, have had little formal project management training and don’t even think of themselves as project managers! They just want to do whatever they can to do the job right so it makes a bigger impact on their nonprofit’s mission (and keep their boss’s confidence in them!)

What’s important about knowing how to manage a project at a nonprofit?

Many nonprofit organizations are project-driven. That means the mission is delivered through a series of smaller initiatives, each with a beginning, a middle, and an end.  If the initiative (project) is carefully planned and managed, it will achieve a unique result, product, or service.

When projects are run well, efficiently, and deliver the intended results, the net effect on your nonprofit is this: Your nonprofit gets to achieve its mission.

If each project’s performance could be improved, even by small incremental amounts, the cumulative effect on the overall organization and mission could be significant.

I had a client who had more than 100 projects in progress at any given time. A few were doing well, while a significant number were experiencing delays or were over budget and in some cases, the project’s funder was not happy with how the project was going.

Each delayed project had a negative impact on team members, the budget, relationships with stakeholders, credibility with funders, and future funding.

With so many projects going on at the same time, even small improvements made to how the projects were managed and run, especially when applied to the number of active projects, could have a significantly positive impact on this organization’s performance and improve its ability to make a bigger difference.

The recipe for project management

Let’s get one thing straight: Your funders care about how you use their money.

Now that YOU are in a project management role, what are some ways YOU make a bigger impact? Think about the project you are now leading. Look at other projects that are going on within your organization.

Here are a few key components to plan and manage a project:

  • Determine the work to be done
  • Estimate what it will cost
  • Figure out how long it might take to do the work
  • Identify which people and groups are important to the project’s outcome. Enroll them in supporting your project. How could they help your project meet its goals so that it’s in their best interest?
  • Be sure you have built in ways to measure and report on outcomes and results of your project
  • What went well? What could be better next time?

You already ARE a project manager

Chances are, you know more about what it takes to manage a project than you think. After all, we manage projects in our lives all the time. For example, think of the last vacation you planned, or the last dinner party you held, or the last house renovation project you tackled.

Each of them has some degree of the following elements of a project:

  • Plan the project
    • What needs to be done? (Scope)
    • How long will each activity/task take? (Schedule)
    • How much will each activity/task cost? (Budget)
    • What could go wrong and how can I be prepared for it? (Risk and Risk Mitigation)
    • Who will be involved? (Team Building, Stakeholder Management)
    • Who needs to know something about the project? What do they need to know? When do they need to know it? How do they like to be informed? (Communication planning)
    • What will the finished product be like? How do you want people to feel when it’s over? How can you keep track of things you learn along the way so you can handle the next project even better? (Closing out the project)
  • Work the plan
    • How will you get everyone focused on the right things at the right time? (Motivating people)
    • How can you manage your own time? Other people's time? (Time management)
    • What if something starts going wrong? Will you recognize it? What can you do about it? (Risk management)
    • What do you do if someone requests a change to your plan? (Change control)
    • Where do you go for support?
  • Wrap it up
    • How do you know when the project is finished? (Quality, Deliverable management)
    • How important is it to close it down? (Closeout)
    • How can you use what you learned to make the next project better? (Lessons Learned)
    • What are you going to do to celebrate? (CELEBRATION!)

Do you feel like a project manager yet? Want to know more? Get notified of new posts, news, and events by joining our mailing list - Click here: www.howardconsultingllc.com/stay-connected

Come to one of our events to learn more!

NOTE: This blog post was originally written for the Maryland Nonprofits 25th Annual Conference, where I'm presenting on Necessary Skills for Accidental Project Managers. We’ll be exploring ideas, sharing tips, checklists, and templates to be more effective, and less overwhelmed, so you can make a bigger impact on your mission.

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