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PM Believer: Colin Powell’s Rules for Project Management – Part 2

I am a believer in the power of project management.

As a professional project manager for twenty years, I have witnessed project success drive business results. I have also proven that project management can change lives and help achieve personal transformation. Now I am sharing some practical tips and techniques that you can use to help achieve your own personal goals, live your best life and become a PM Believer.

Colin Powell’s Rules for Project Management – Part 2

In Colin Powell’s Rules for Project Management – Part 1, I explained that America lost a great leader with the passing of Colin Powell. This is part two of my series saluting Colin Powell and his thirteen rules of life and leadership and their application to project management.

While part one of this series was mostly about foundational rules, like having a plan and a vision, this post is about something even more important. Part two of this series focuses on the leadership humility critical for a project manager.

Rule #3: Avoid having your ego so close to your position that when your position falls, your ego goes with it.

Rule three is a little longer in its title and a little harder to understand at first. This rule could be rephrased as “don’t fall in love with your point of view because you might be wrong.”

We have all had experiences with violating this rule from time to time. You form a point of view or position about some issue – pretty typical for a project manager. Then you defend your position, arguing with those who disagree with you. But, because you have become so entrenched in your position, you can’t admit that you are wrong when the facts don’t support you. You just keep arguing, switching from facts to faith as your basis.

You get so committed to your opinion that you believe you are wrong, not just your opinion, and it clouds your ability to be objective.

Project managers often fall into the trap of violating this rule regarding project methodologies, project plans and even status colors. But this violates one of the most critical aspects of project management: set a baseline, monitor for new information and adjust as needed (see Science Project Management).

Suppose we treat our plans and any other item we believe we are right about as hypotheses instead of acts of faith. Doing this can save us a lot of heartburn.

Rule #9: Share Credit.

The basis for rule three is very similar to that of rule nine and is described in the following quote by C.S. Lewis.

Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.

C.S. Lewis

As project managers, we are often the face of our projects, but we do the least amount of the actual work of the project. This means we will frequently receive a pat on the back, kudos and credit that isn’t really ours. Just accepting this praise without clarifying that it was a team effort is stealing recognition and credit from those who deserve it (see Attitude of Gratitude).

Any time somebody gives you praise, take a minute to ensure that others are getting their well-earned recognition. You don’t need to be dishonest and downplay your contributions (e.g., thinking less of yourself); just look for opportunities to recognize others too (e.g., thinking of yourself less).

Rule #10: Remain Calm. Be Kind.

Leading with humility is much easier when things are going well, and you are generously redistributing praise. But, humility is way more important when things are going wrong. And, there will definitely be times when things are going wrong.

As project managers, we are the leaders of our projects. As leaders, we set the tone for how the team will behave. That is why it is so vital for us to be role models worth following.

When something goes wrong in your project (at work or a personal goal), you will be tempted to immediately go “below the line.” This means reacting poorly, blaming others, getting angry and flying off the handle. We all know leaders like that, right?

The truth is, when you reach poorly to problems, you tend to amplify the problem. The more you are ranting and raving, the less time you spend solving the real problem. Plus, if you immediately launch a blame-storming session to discover whose fault it is, your team will not want to help you. Or worse, they will hide future issues from you.

The better approach when issues arise is to take a deep breath and stay calm. Work with the team to understand the problem, its impact and your options to resolve it. Be appreciative of the team for honesty and candor and model the problem-solving behavior you expect from others.

Are you ready to be a PM Believer?

Today’s PM Believer continues my exploration of the project management lessons that we can learn from Colin Powell’s Thirteen Rules of Leadership. While part one concentrated on the steps you need to take to set your project up for success, this week is focused on something more personal. How do you ensure that you are a leader who people want to follow?

How have you applied project management for your personal success? Tell me about it at and make sure to join my email list to have updates delivered to your inbox weekly.

Make sure to help your friends achieve their goals by sharing this post on your social network and by following me on LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram.

Want to know more about how I changed my life with project management? Pick up your copy of my book Operation Melt: How I Used Life-Changing Project Management to Lose Over 100 Pounds In Under a Year.

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