An Interview with Ed Lamb, COO at Jeremy Cassell Coaching
Fresh off Jeremy Cassell’s record-breaking webinar for the Project Management Institute on The C³ Model of Influencing, we decided to ask our project management expert Ed Lamb a few questions about the role of influence in project management, how to get over imposter syndrome, and also get a few of his horror stories in!
How have you been involved as a project manager or with project managers in your career?
When the dot com crash happened in 2000, and continued at a slower pace for the next 2 or 3 years, the digital agency I worked for was under pressure and decided to merge the Account Manager and Project Manager roles. So I became a Project Manager out of necessity and continued in that role for a couple of years, before moving back into Account Managerial roles. The nature of the two is that there can be overlap but the projects I’ve enjoyed the most have been alongside talented PMs, where I’ve been the client relationship lead.
What is the biggest challenge facing project managers today?
Can I have two? Managing the continual demand for faster and a continual pressure on price.
What role does influence play in project management?
It’s vital. It’s amazing the difference that winning the trust of a client early on in a relationship can make. That’s not always easy – often the stakeholder who has instigated the project is keen to get going. Positively influencing your stakeholders is therefore vital, but so is the ability to influence the team. There isn’t a PM anywhere who hasn’t had to ask a favour or two from members of the team to work on something urgent for example. Your ability to influence within your team and any external stakeholders is therefore vital.
How can project managers get over their imposter syndrome?
Massive generalisation alert! PMs are rarely extroverts – certainly that’s been my experience. And I’ve often observed domineering stakeholders attempting to instruct Project Managers rather than working with them. No one, in any role, has gone through their career without doubting themselves and the way to overcome that is the same for everyone. Wherever possible ensure you have trusted support around you that you can turn to, either for a second opinion on a tricky problem, or for a pep talk when you need it. I like to remind myself that we’re not making parachutes – hopefully no one reading this is Project Managing the manufacturing of parachutes! And finally, don’t catastrophise – remind yourself of your most successful previous projects when you need to.
What are some top tips for re-engaging someone who’s stopped responding to your messages?
It’s very rare that someone doesn’t respond to a message deliberately, but many of us are under a lot of pressure and messages do get missed. Talk about this at the start of the project. These days email is often the default, Whatsapp the escalation and a phone call used when an immediate response is needed. But that should be discussed and agreed with each member of the team in advance so that, when it comes to the crunch, you can work in the way that you agreed and escalate as you discussed.
What are some top tips for engaging someone who is not prioritising your project?
This is tough and you are unlikely to fully understand every element of their work so can’t be sure how your project should be prioritised. But all you can do is try to ensure that they understand the impact their lack of prioritisation could have, or is having, on the project. A risks and issues log will help there but, in extreme circumstances it may not even get opened so you need to work around their diary to get some 1-to-1 time to explain and discuss things with them. I’ve often found that people will accept a meeting rather than do the work required, so undoubtedly handholding through a particular task can help, and a quick meeting before the working day has also helped me to engage busy stakeholders in the past. The final approach you can try is to ask if there is anyone else who can step in, or to give the new project completion date if their input is delayed. Both may well lead to a higher prioritisation.
Are there soft skills that you think are crucial for a project manager to acquire?
Taking the time to consider the personality profile of everyone you’re engaging with. Are they analytical or creative with no desire to get into the detail? Are they introverted or extroverted? Do they want to get straight into work when you speak to them or do they want a soft start to the meeting discussing the weekend, children, etc? It’s all part of influencing and key to getting the support you need on the project when you need it.
How can project management help with change management projects?
Organisations are in continual change – all that changes is the pace of that change, with Covid having accelerated change in many cases. So much of change is about handling the emotional reaction to change and getting individuals and teams to work in support of the change required, so planning and managing the communication flow is vital. Also vital is adjusting the plan based on the levels of buy-in you get rather than simply working through a waterfall process from start to finish so a high-quality project manager can make or break a change management programme.
What’s your favourite memory of project management?
I worked with another Project Manager on the London2012 site – that was great fun as I love my sport and we had the support of a great client too.
How can other stakeholders support project managers?
Typically, I’ve worked for agencies that are delivering projects for clients and acted as the Client Lead alongside a project manager. In that role the client would often come to me when they didn’t get the answer they wanted from the Project Manager and, vital though it was for me to maintain a good client relationship, it was more important that I didn’t undermine the PM. 99 times out of 100 my role was to support the argument the project manager was making. Of course, where you can see in advance that a particular point will be contentious, voicing support of a PM’s approach can also be very helpful.
Looking at things from the point of view of a client or an internal stakeholder instigating a project, the best way you can support the PM is to understand that each demand will impact other areas. Want a higher quality solution? You’re likely to need more money and possibly more time– don’t expect the PM to do that magically. Want to reduce the price? Expect to lose elements of the solution. In summary, don’t ask for the impossible and listen, and take action if necessary, when the PM highlights risks and issues.
Do you have any project management horror stories?
I worked on a project many years ago where I was the Account Manager and we didn’t consider the content entry element of a website design project sufficiently. It was a very big site for an automotive manufacturer and, although the shell of the site was in place by due date, content entry via the content management system took a long time, not only to enter, but also to specify and get signed off in the first place. I slept on the agency sofa one night having worked until the early hours and started again early the next day after 3 hours sleep. That morning I was washing my hands in the gents when the CEO came in and asked me if the site would go live that week. I said I couldn’t promise that, but that we were doing everything we could, to which he replied “well if you lot miss another deadline I’m going to ****ing kill you”! To be fair to him, he did apologise later realising he’d gone too far. It’s fair to say that I was glad when that project was over!
Ed Lamb is the COO of Jeremy Cassell Coaching where he wears several hats. Among them, Ed develops and delivers pitch coaching and presentation coaching. He also provides programme management on large scale sales development and change programmes. If you would like to work with Ed, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.