Project Management

What happens when you rescue your project team members?

From the I wish I had me when I was you... Blog
"I wish I had me when I was you..." That expresses precisely how I feel each time a project manager or PMO leader tells me a story about their frustrations encountered while trying to create effective and sustainable change, build (or fix) a PMO, or deliver projects successfully. I always think to myself…I wish I knew then what I know now. I’ve made it my mission to share with you everything that I have learned while creating change and building PMOs in both large and small organizations for the last 24 years, many of those years as an employee in the "hot seat" responsible for building internal capability. I’m hoping these articles help you along your journey as you continue to evolve and develop skills and techniques to be the high-IMPACT leader you are meant to be. Learn more at

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We’ve all been there. The work is piling up. The deadlines are hovering over our heads and our project is behind schedule. It’s so tempting to just jump in and start rescuing the project to make sure that the ultimate outcomes are achieved. We want to be the hero and we know we are ultimately accountable for project success, but there are some big challenges that come with being the fire fighter and rescuing our project team members when they aren’t getting their work done. In this two-part article, we will first take a look at what happens when you become the rescuer for your project team, and next week in part 2 we will dive into how to avoid becoming the rescuer in the future.

Here are a few of the problems that come with being the hero and rescuing your project by doing the project work for others:

  1. You become the one that does the work.
    When we rescue others by doing the work for them, they will let us keep rescuing them and doing the work for them. See a problem with this? Now it becomes the thing you “just” do to knock it out or help out others…and they will let you keep doing it.


  2. You don’t get your own work done.There’s no way you can rescue others by doing their work and still stay on top of all the things you should be doing. If you are a manager of any kind or lead others, you certainly have more work on your plate than you really have time to do. So, why do you think you have time to take on the work of others and still get your own stuff done?
  3. Not only that, but people will start to point out all the things you didn’t get done that ARE your responsibility because you were so busy doing other people’s work. Yes, seems unfair, doesn’t it? You know you aren’t supposed to be doing that work, so do they. Sometimes they are grateful, but most of the time, the fact that you did other people’s work is not how you will be measured. You will be measured for the work you were supposed to be doing…that isn’t getting done.

  4. You lose the ability to hold others accountable.
    If people see that they can get away with not doing something they are supposed to, regardless of how many times you told them to do it, they will just not do it. It’s simple. It’s not that they are necessarily being difficult or trying to cause trouble, they may just have their energy focused on other things. However, people will see that there really aren’t consequences to not doing what you have assigned them and others will start exhibiting the same behavior. This is extremely dangerous to your effectiveness with the team.
  5. The entire team is less productive.
    If your job is to help to facilitate the work (instead of do it all yourself), and your time is spent doing the work for others, you won’t have time to make sure that all the work that should be getting done, is getting done, the way it should be getting done, when it should be getting done.
  6. You lose your authority.
    You become one of the doers instead of one of the leaders. I’m not saying you should never roll up your sleeves and help, but what I am saying is be very careful how you proceed. As managers, we must have a level of authority to assign the work and facilitate work completion and if we are doing the same tasks as everyone else, or doing everyone else’s tasks, then we are a task doer instead of a manager making sure the work is getting done. Your job is to facilitate the work.
  7. People wait to get rescued.
    There are several reasons that this is likely to happen and it isn’t just always because they are lazy. While laziness can certainly plague teams, it’s also possible that they just don’t place as high a priority on the task as you do, therefore they will let you keep doing it. Or, it’s possible that they are just completely overwhelmed themselves and you aren’t being the squeaky wheel, so they are doing the other things they need to be doing…and you are rescuing them…so, it’s still getting done, right?
  8. You perpetuate the problem.
    So many of us have said it: “It would take me longer to explain it, so I will just do it myself.” Yes, sometimes this is true. We do something that we know we really should delegate to someone else because it just seems easier to do it ourselves. However, once you have this mindset, you will miss the opportunity to teach someone else how to do something so that NEXT time, you don’t have to do it. Think about it. If it’s something that will ever possibly happen again, do you want to be the one that does it every time? Maybe one time it would “just be easier” to do it yourself, but if the task will come up again, you should make sure someone else is equipped to do it themselves.

The other problem here is that things are never a “just” or as “easy” as we think they are. That 5-minute task could turn into a four hour back and forth email conversation and chasing people down to get answers…wouldn’t it have been better to have this on the right person’s plate from the start?

So, how do we avoid finding ourselves in this position of not delegating and ending up doing all of the tasks we know darn well we shouldn’t be doing?

It's simple! Next week in part 2, I will address how to be firm, clearly define roles and responsibilities, and how to understand why work isn't getting done.

Thanks for taking the time to read this article.

I welcome your feedback and insights. Please leave a comment below.

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Posted on: February 12, 2018 07:59 AM | Permalink

Comments (7)

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Good article Laura, and thanks for sharing this.
I was in this situation many times, so I'm very interested to know how to avoid this in future. Waiting for part 2.

Great article Laura - I wrote a similar one in 2014 when I faced off against a few "hero" PMs:


Good Points Laura - You make some very good and true points.

Been there :-) great insight Laura.

...yes...what is BEST for the TEAM...vice BEST for the INDIVIDUAL!...
viele danke!!!

" You don’t get your own work done." this is a real problem we face when trying to rescue others. Just had this problem recently.

Creating a bad expectation, that is a problem

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