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Why being a Project Manager is NOT a thankless job

Being a Project Manager is one of the most fulfilling jobs I’ve ever had. Taking a project from start to finish is a great feat. Building relationships with both your internal team as well as the client is an amazing feeling. Launching a project close to on-time and close to or on budget is incredible.

Despite all of this, being a PM is a tough job, and I’ve heard many people refer to being a PM as a “thankless job”. But whoever coined that phrase must have been a pretty bad Project Manager.

People think that because you bear the responsibility of the project on your shoulders that people don’t appreciate you. Nobody ever truly thinks about the people who helped make a project great.

They tend to look at the output and credit the designer or strategist while forgetting about the people who did all the grunt work.

Take a second and consider your favourite piece of architecture. You never think about the hundreds of people who actually built it, they just care about the person who came up with the design. But that’s no reason to get discouraged, you can take pride in running a smooth project for your team and client.

Yes, this job can be difficult. Yes, sometimes you feel like the weight of the world is on your shoulders. Yes, you will have tough clients who don’t appreciate you.

But thankless? I don’t think so… people appreciate you, even if your name isn’t on that Webby Award.

Why It’s Ok Being Invisible

Great PM’s earn the trust of their team, their client and deliver within the expectations that they’ve set.

No project goes exactly as planned, but if you’re a great PM you can navigate those waters and make the project successful. The goal isn’t to get a “Thank You”, but it’s to have a successful experience and project for your team and client.

You have to be at peace with the fact that if you’re doing a great job, the project may not get a ton of attention from the stakeholders. I’ve heard the saying that, “great design is invisible” and I think the same thing applies to Project Management. Great Project Management is invisible. Think about it, if you’re doing a great job as a PM, there probably won’t be too many flare ups, issues or complaints. Get your satisfaction from knowing that things are running smoothly and people are happy. Those people will remember why things went so smoothly, even if they don’t outright say it or award you for it.

6 Things You Should Be Doing To Run Projects Effectively

Everyone has to deal with issues from time to time. But, here are some things that I’ve identified that great PM’s do consistently to run invisible projects:

#1. Set your team up for success

Writing great user stories or tasks, understanding what each team member is doing, taking the guess work away from them. Go above and beyond to make things easy for the team. Set them up for success with all of the information they’ll need to do their work. Be willing to problem solve and make sure your team knows you’ve got their back. Understand the requirements of the client so well that you can be the voice of truth for your team. Don’t just be a facilitator.

set your team up for success

Be the guy that provides everything your team needs to know. Be the voice of truth.

#2. Understand the technology your team is using

Nothing frustrates a developer more than a PM who doesn’t understand what they’re building. Dig in, understand what they’re building, its capabilities, and how it’s done. Be available to suggest ideas and creatively solve problems for the team. Don’t be afraid to roll up your sleeves and help remove technical blockers. It builds trust with your team.

Understand the technology your team is using

You don’t need to be an expert. But without a minimum knowledge, there is not much you can do to help your team.

#3. Set clear expectations early and often

Funny enough, the more you set expectations the better. Say no. Call out scope changes. Call out scope creep. I’ve always found that being upfront with our clients from day one helps them know who’s in charge of steering the ship. Don’t be afraid to set expectations continuously and let everyone know it’s in the best interest of the project. If you have to say no, be prepared to offer alternative solutions to solve whatever problem you’re discussing.

set clear expectations

Sometimes, saying “no” is the best you can do to your project and to your client.

#4. Navigate the tough conversations with poise

Nothing builds a better relationship than going through some tough times. Have humility, and make sure your client knows that you hear them. If you can navigate tough situations and create solutions your projects won’t garner negative attention. Make sure the raise your hand for assistance if you need it, but don’t be afraid to tackle tough conversations head on. But be nice.

#5. Make recommendations for future enhancements

I try and start a backlog on day one. Recommend future enhancements to your projects. Our projects aren’t about what’s happening today. Yes, that’s important but our clients want to know that we’re forward thinking and have ideas for improving their products. Always be forward thinking and make sure they know you intend on continuing to work together. Projects should never be a one and done.

Make recommendations for future enhancements

Think ahead. What can be done to improve the project?

#6. Keep the client relationship top of mind

This is huge in my opinion. While many agencies have Account Managers who own the relationship, Project Managers go through the trenches with their clients. I’ve always felt that gives me a leg up on building a relationship with the client. Keep that in mind, and make sure you’re always focused on the relationship. If you look at this way, you will approach your tough conversations with a different perspective. You’ll have a little more give and take (which I’ve found is better for the overall relationship). Clients will know they can rely on you and it’ll build trust.

Keep the client relationship top of mind

Build a relationship and make your client feel that can trust you.


These are just a few traits of great Project Managers that I’ve identified. If you’re able to master these tasks you’ll be well on your way to delivering successful projects. Hopefully, you’ll be lucky enough to be part of a team that wins an award or two in your career. You may not always get the attention or “thank you’s” of those around you, but know that you were incredibly influential in a successful project. As was your team.

Project Management is an incredibly fulfilling job. One that you can take pride in knowing that you consistently deliver successful projects. It’s okay if Project Management is invisible. That just means you’re killing it.

What Do You Think?

Do you feel that project management is a thankless job? Or do you agree that effective project management should be invisible? Let your opinion in the comments.

By Justin Handler

Justin Handler is the Head of Accounts at O3 World, a digital product design and development agency in Philadelphia. Justin has been instrumental in forming the O3 project processes and has lead the management of diverse projects, including enterprise product builds, mobile applications, sales tools, eCommerce websites and much more. Justin brings over 9 years of experience in project management to inform his expertise in managing the O3 team of Project Managers and overseeing high-level strategy for all clients.

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    Thanks Jessica. I'd love to get a chance to see your PM app that you built sometime!


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    I agree, “great design is invisible”, and my secret weapon is the project management app I built. From my custom dashboard, I can see what’s happening across teams, individuals, processes, and tasks in real-time—which makes it easier to manage proactively.