The Most Important Phrase New PMs Need to Embrace

Andy Jordan is President of Roffensian Consulting S.A., a Roatan, Honduras-based management consulting firm with a comprehensive project management practice. Andy always appreciates feedback and discussion on the issues raised in his articles and can be reached at Andy's new book Risk Management for Project Driven Organizations is now available.

The other day, a new PM said to me, “I hate having to say ‘I don’t know’ all the time.” She was concerned that it would reflect badly on how she was perceived, that people would think she couldn’t handle the job because it seemed like there was so much she didn’t know or understand. If she felt that way, then I’m pretty sure a lot of new PMs feel that way, so let’s explore it a bit.

I use the phrase “I don’t know” all the time when running projects, programs or portfolios. It is one of the more common things I’ll say (and one of the most printable), and it isn’t a problem. Let me go further: It may be the most important phrase you can learn as a new project manager. You should be saying it a lot, and you should be proud of that fact.

Let me explain. As the project manager, you have a broad set of responsibilities. You are accountable for all of the work and you have to manage relationships with all stakeholders. The only way you can successfully manage that breadth is to sacrifice the depth of your knowledge. In other words, you end up knowing a little about a lot of different things, but you don’t know a lot about any one area.

That’s okay, because you have a team and stakeholders working with you, and they do have the depth of knowledge. In their case, they lack the …

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