Making the Step up: Moving from Project Management to Managing Project Managers


Neil Smith

at some point in your  project management career you will be expected to manage project managers, e.g. as a Program, Portfolio or Line Manager. Managing people effectively can be a difficult skill to master. It can easily leave you feeling like an imposter, and thus get sucked back down into the detail.

It should be no different from all forms of people management, but it is, especially when stepping up to manage your ex-peers/friends, adding an extra challenge of navigating a change in your working relationship.

Luckily, Project Managers already possess the skills to effectively manage in their Project Management toolbox. In this blog, I will discuss the top 8 key skills that you will need to tap into when managing project management professionals.



It is important to define a structure with your team. This will bring clarity for both parties involved. Outline a framework for your week on how and when you would like to meet, send/receive information.

It is important to understand that all Project Managers are humans after all, and have different needs and wants. Therefore, it is important to define your own flexible framework to cater for diversity of thought and practice. Managing people is never straightforward. Make sure to celebrate diversity, and don’t always think you have to know the solution.



Agree a common vision. All goals and tasks should be aligned with team members and the business’s goals. A common vision with agreed common goals will lead to aligned and improved performance.



Agree NO Surprises. There must be a framework. It must be agreed that communications are two-way, open and honest. Senior PMs, for example, need guidance and support/assurance, not control and command. This is more relevant, the more we work remotely.



Working as a project manager can sometimes be silo’d. As a manager, it is important to be mindful of this, and focus on building a support network for your team. Building a peer network among team members can provide many benefits for your team members.

  • Learning off each other
  • Doing Peer reviews
  • Identifying and Solving problems themselves through team collaboration



It is critical to be genuine to yourself and to your teams. They need to understand that you have their back when needed. This can be achieved in many ways. Sometimes it’s digging in at a particularly busy time or covering for someone in an emergency. I think the phrase “practice what you preach” is appropriate.



Be ready to get your hands dirty. New managers often get sucked into the detail. This must be avoided at all costs and involves managing upwards, i.e. your Manager must understand that you cannot get sucked back into the detail. A Manager that is coaching/empowering creates a much more productive team ethos.



Focus on empowering your team. A Project Manager must feel empowered, this is key to getting the best out of people. People who feel empowered in their jobs make better decisions and produce higher quality outputs.



Create an environment that fosters feedback loops. Most Project Managers are used to giving and receiving feedback, so build this into your teams. This will create a way for you to learn and grow into your role, use regular formal/informal 1:1’s, team meetings to allow a platform for this to thrive.

Above are 8 of the top key skills that will help shape the transition for people moving from Managing projects to managing people. I’ll be back in a few weeks with my next blog. Until then, if you have any questions or would like further advice on people management feel free to reach out to me at – I’d be delighted to help.