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Inside the Mind of a Project Manager – The Project Manager’s Mindset

By Pat Lucey 28 Sep 2023
Inside the Mind of a Project Manager – The Project Manager’s Mindset

Pat Lucey is a vastly experienced project manager and entrepreneur with several prestigious certifications, including the PMP and PMI-ACP. Pat has been working in project management roles for over two decades and co-founded Aspira in 2007, where he served as CEO until 2022. Pat has devoted significant time to advancing the project management profession, serving as the director and president of PMI's Ireland Chapter for over a decade. He was recently elected to the PMI Global Board of Directors 2024-2026.

Q: Congratulations on the recent announcement that you have been elected to the Board of Directors of the Project Management Institute for 2024-2026 and on being the first Irish person to be elected to the board.  Could you provide some insight into your background and what specifically motivated your interest in project management? 

Thank you very much, it was a great honour to be elected – I very much appreciate the support I got from my colleagues both in Ireland and all over the world, and I hope I can live up to their expectations as I prepare to step into this new role in January. 

Like many in the profession, I became a Project Manager by accident! I was working for Motorola as a software engineer and at some point, my ‘control-freak’ nature must have shown itself, as I was asked to take on responsibility for a small project in addition to my regular job. While the role didn’t come with the title of Part-time Project Manager, that is essentially what it was. I soon found that I enjoyed the tasks of planning, organizing and coordinating. Running a project meant I got to work with a wider group of people and got visibility into aspects of the business that I had no idea about beforehand. It also meant that each day brought a new and different to deal with, meaning I learned every single day – something I still do. 

When the time came to step away from an engineering role and become a full time Project Professional, I signed up for the Diploma in Project Management run by Ed Naughton (founder of the Institute of Project Management). I remember the first lecture delivered by Ed as he shared a bunch of tools that I had never heard of, such as the Work Breakdown Structure. Ever since that day, it’s been my favourite PM tool. I went on to get PMP certified and since then have completed a bunch of Agile certifications too.  

Q: From your perspective, how important is project management certification, and what value does it add to a professional's career? 

My answer on the value of certification is that it depends on who you are and what you want to do. I cannot think of a role that would not benefit from learning the skills of project management. So, if your goal is to get faster/better/smarter/more efficient at what you do, I would definitely recommend signing up for some project management training. No question there. 

However, if your only objective is to be better at your job, it may not be a huge advantage to get a professional PM certification. On the other hand, if your goal is to be a professional project manager, then I think it’s a must-have to gain a professional certification. The simplest analogy is that having a PM certification is like having a driving licence – just holding the cert doesn’t mean you’re a great driver/PM… but if you don’t have that cert, there’s not a chance I will let you get behind the driver’s seat of my car/project. 

Q: You changed career in 2007 when you co-founded your own business. How did the mindset of the Project Manager align with that of running a start-up business?

That’s right – Motorola closed their doors in Ireland in early 2007 and we were all made redundant, wondering what to do next. Luckily, it was a great company for investing in people development, so ex-Motorola staff were held in high regard and were in demand by other companies. Many former colleagues have now risen to very senior positions in a variety of organizations. 

In my case, after becoming an accidental PM, I next became an accidental Entrepreneur. Along with my colleague, Colum Horgan, we felt ready to take our chances running our own company, Aspira. The initial tagline was ‘taking the chaos out of Project Management,’ so we were aiming high. We hired four ex-Motorola colleagues right from day 1. The only interview process was us trying to convince them that we had a viable vision. Thankfully, they took the leap with us. 

I think the PM mindset was very useful in running a new business. Our business plan was basically a project plan. The need for clear budgets, targets, schedules, and quality plans was evident. When we engaged with target clients, we were able to impress them with their detailed project WBS, schedule and risk register. These tools gave us a veneer of professionalism and respectability that we may otherwise not have been able to convey. 

After 15 years running Aspira as CEO, I learned to appreciate the similarities between the PM mindset and that of the Entrepreneur. For example, both roles require a focus on both the task (get things done on time) and on the people (give people the opportunity to realise their potential). Power skills like Emotional Intelligence, empathy, people development, and the ability to inspire and motivate people are all vital skills in both roles. Also, I found my journey as an entrepreneur forced me to improve my ability to prioritise, to be decisive, to develop sharper business acumen – and all these things made me a better project manager. 

Of course, the biggest clash comes in the area of Risk Management. My inner PM wanted to reduce, avoid, mitigate, get rid of risk at all costs. But my Entrepreneurial voice grew restless if there wasn’t enough live risk – that meant we weren’t being aggressive enough on our growth plans. I never did find a stable balance between the two. Typically, my Entrepreneurial side would see us taking a new risk – like opening an office in a new part of the world – then my PM nature would kick in and I would strive to get on top of all the new unknowns. Then, when everything was humming along smoothly, I’d go reaching out for another new opportunity and the cycle would begin again. I guess, in a weird way, maybe there was an equilibrium of sorts. 

Q: Many of our readers are aspiring project managers. What advice have you learned as an entrepreneur that would help them have a successful career in project management?

I’ll share two pieces of advice. 

The first is to listen to every piece of advice you are given, and then ignore half of it. The trick, of course, is knowing which half to ignore. Remember that people will give you advice from their perspective, which applies to their context. It may or may not be applicable to your context, so listen and reflect before deciding on your course of action. 

And of course, the above statement also applies to my second piece of advice: 

To be successful, hard work is vital. But it is not enough – you also need some good luck. So, my advice is to cultivate ways to become lucky. I have found six things that have helped me to be a luckier Entrepreneur – and a luckier PM. They are: 

Be a Giver: 

The concept of giving refers to being generous with your time, knowledge, and resources. By helping others, sharing your expertise, and offering value without expecting immediate returns, you create a positive reputation and build strong relationships. The law of reciprocity often comes into play, and people are more likely to support you and help you to be successful. 

Be Authentic: 

Authenticity is about being true to yourself and your values. Building a business or delivering a project where you behave with authenticity will create trust and foster genuine connections with colleagues and customers. By staying true to your beliefs and principles, you can build a strong reputation and attract loyal team members and customers who appreciate your values. 

Be Resilient:

Resilience is crucial because you will inevitably face challenges and setbacks in your business and in your projects. Being resilient means having the ability to bounce back from failures, learn from them, and keep moving forward. It's important to maintain a positive mindset, persevere through tough times, and adapt to changing circumstances. Using an agile approach helps accelerate this learning curve. 

Build a Team:

Building a great team is essential for long-term success. Surround yourself with talented individuals who share your vision and complement your skills. A strong team can help you overcome weaknesses, bring diverse perspectives, and contribute their expertise to propel your project or business forward. 

Build a Network:

Networking is crucial for business success as it allows you to connect with like-minded individuals, industry experts, potential customers, potential recruits and partners. Attend industry events, join professional organizations, and use online platforms to expand your network. Building strong relationships can open doors to new opportunities, partnerships, and valuable insights. 

Build a Risk Culture:

Taking calculated business risks is often necessary for growth and innovation. Encourage a culture of risk-taking within your business by fostering an environment where ideas are welcomed and occasional failures are seen as opportunities to learn. By embracing risk, you increase your chances of discovering new opportunities and staying ahead in a competitive market. One big caveat though - don’t let people confuse a positive risk culture with taking risks with your product quality or your team’s Health and Safety – some risks are never worth taking!

The six keys to a successful project management career

Q: Thank you for sharing your thoughts Pat

You are very welcome. I would encourage anyone to consider Project Management as a career. It is interesting, engaging, and no two days are ever the same. It is in demand all over the world and offers a bridge that allows people to move between industries. 

I can’t think of a better career to have than as a Project Manager!