You are not a true project manager unless you have accepted that the job you signed up for is hard and the only way to get through a tough project is by building your Project Manager Skill Stack and stopping to whine about the challenges we all face this job, day in and day out:
An experienced PM will look at these comments with a smile:
Yeah, that’s what we all go through.
But what if you are new to the field and just took over your first project? How do you deal with these and other situations in a professional way – without burning bridges, and without burning out?
Having a mentor on your side can be extremely helpful, because you get real-life advice and you have somebody to share your thoughts with.
But how do you find a mentor with project management experience? That’s what I’ll be answering in this article.
Four Groups of People That Make Great Mentors
Active Project Managers [very busy]
While it would be ideal to have an experienced project manager that you could work with on a weekly basis, that might be quite hard to find. Most project leaders are incredibly busy and struggle even to keep their own affairs together.
However, there are certainly active PMs out there who would be happy to talk to you for an hour and give you tips on whatever you are wrestling with at the moment. Further below, I’ll show you how you can connect with PMs who are still actively leading projects.
Retired Project Managers
With this group, your odds of finding a mentor are probably the highest! Retired PMs have an incredible (Elephant-like) amount of experience and they come with the benefit of having available time (although that is not the case for everybody. If I look at my mother it feels like many retired people are busier than most people still in the workforce).
I think there are two downsides of having a retired PM as a mentor: The first: The longer a PM has been outside of the workforce, the less familiar they are with the challenges we face at leading projects today. Just think of the whole remote work craze, the use of teams working in different time zones but also the impact of technology and apps.
The other downside of having a retiree mentor is that he or she may not be able to relate to your challenges as well as somebody who is a bit closer to your career stage (meaning: younger).
So ideally, you want to be looking for a retired PM who has retired recently. I have worked with a retired PM mentor myself, and it was a great experience. Actually, he was my co-project manager in a large IT implementation, and I learned a ton from our collaboration.
Team Leads or Managers (Retired or Active)
Why do I recommend team leaders and managers as possible PM mentors for you?
Project management is essentially people management. It is about setting goals, communicating responsibilities, delegating work, motivating people, giving feedback, ensuring accountability and so on. This is what every good team leader or line manager knows how to do well! And there are way more team leaders out there than project managers, so the pool of available mentors is much larger.
Even if you have a PM mentor, I do suggest you also try to find a great and respected team leader or manager who can help you fine-tune your leadership style.
Project Leadership Coaches
A coach is not the same as a mentor, but coaching can be a very effective way of upskilling yourself quickly for an upcoming project assignment. While you do have to pay for coaching, the benefit is that your coach will be available whenever you need him or her. This is different from a mentorship which is generally done on a goodwill basis and where the mentor may prioritize other things.
I have coached project leaders for many years now, and it has been amazing to see people grow from their first steps into becoming confident and “bulletproof” project leaders. Through my experience of leading big IT implementation projects for over 10 years, I am able to relate to the situations and questions my clients wrestle with on a daily basis, and I’m able to provide specific tactical advice that they cannot get anywhere else.
If you want to become a confident and unshakeable project leader with my guidance, check out my coaching page.
Four Places Where You Can Find An Experienced Project Management Mentor
I am giving you four ways to connect with experienced PMs. Which way you choose depends mostly on how fast you need a mentor, and it also depends on where you are located. Some options are just more promising when you live in a bigger city that has a lot of companies that employ project managers.
Reddit: If you need a mentor fast, look here
The fastest way to find a mentor with experience is through Reddit. There is a dedicated group focused on project management, and there are lively discussions every day.
I have seen people looking for a mentor and actually finding one through posting a message in the forum. Actually, one of my first mentees was a guy named Chris from the Philippines who had reached out to me via Reddit. So you can find a project management mentor on Reddit as well!
PMI Local Chapter: A fantastic way to network with experienced PMs
The Project Management Institute (PMI) has a large network of local chapters where project managers meet to network, share best practices and enjoy group activities. It’s a great place also for aspiring project managers who are looking for opportunities to break into the field. While the level of engagement will vary from chapter to chapter (preferably, visit a chapter meetup in a bigger city), it is for sure the best place to find an experienced PM who enjoys passing on his or her knowledge to those new to the field.
When thinking about joining a PMI chapter, keep in mind that it’s the initiative of the members that keeps a chapter alive and fun. Therefore, try to add value to the chapter and don’t just look for your benefit. One way you can be useful for a chapter is by volunteering – for example by helping out with some of the event organizations.
The thing is, senior-level project managers like to provide mentorship, but they are even more willing to help when they see that you are not just taking, but also giving to the community.
Meetups: Chat with experienced PMs over beer and pizza
Meetup.com is an online platform where people organize local (and now also virtual) events around any kind of professional topic or leisure activity.
Before I started Tactical Project Manager, I hosted my own meetups around personal development (I called it the Achievers meetup) and also one for project managers where anybody could share their experiences. Quite a few people showed up and it was fun to hear about people’s stories and backgrounds.
On Meetup.com you can find many events for project management and agile in particular. Just go to Meetup.com and search for “project management” events in your area.
Your chances of finding a PM mentor on a meetup are high because the events are very popular! Maybe you can also form a small mastermind group with other PMs who are at a similar level, and you can learn from each other.
Quora: Connect with PM experts from your industry
If you haven’t heard of Quora: it’s another popular online discussion forum. Topics range from A as Astronomy to Z as Zen buddhism, with a dedicated section for project management and related sub topics like Project Management Professional (PMP), Project Engineering and the like. As a forum member, you can ask questions yourself or answer questions raised by others. Those who provide answers are often experts in their field or at least people with tremendous professional experience.
How do you find a mentor on Quora? You can email anybody using private messages. If you see an experienced project manager commenting frequently on PM-related topics, send that person a message asking whether they’d be willing to mentor you. I personally know several older PMs who frequently answer questions on Quora, and I know they’d be willing to help somebody like you – I’m saying ‘help’ not ‘mentor you’ – they just don’t have the time to provide ongoing mentorship, but they could probably fit in one or two calls.
Be The Kind Of Person Everybody Would Love To Have As Their Mentee
I see a lot of people asking online, looking for a mentor. Requests often read like: “Hi, I’m Adam, I am new to the field, I just became a Technical Project Manager. I think I need a mentor to become a true PM”. What I’m missing in most of these requests is specificity: Why do you think you need a mentor? Which skill do you want to develop? What areas do you struggle with most? What questions do you have right now? If you don’t have a clear picture of the topics you want to cover in a mentorship, the mentor cannot be very helpful and the engagement will be boring and unsatisfying for the mentor. Therefore, I urge you to make a list of very specific topics you want to go through. This way the mentorship will be much more fruitful and fun for both sides.
The second tip on how to be a good mentee: Implement what you have learned from the mentorship and show that you are an action-taker. Believe me, there’s nothing worse than giving all this advice to a person and then seeing he or she is not implementing any of your advice. Don’t make that mistake. Create an Excel sheet where you list down all your insights and the tips you have received and document what you have implemented so far. Show your progress to your mentor because this will also make him or her feel proud.
My last tip I have for you is to show your gratitude when you have found a mentor. See if there is a way you can give back – maybe your mentor needs help with this computer, or he needs a lift to the car dealership to pick up his repaired car. If there is no obvious way to be helpful, think of a nice gift your mentor will feel excited about. Something that matches his or her interests and hobbies.
I wish you good luck getting started as a PM. Make sure you subscribe to my newsletter where I share practical tips for leading intense projects. It’s coming out once a week and you definitely don’t want to miss it!