Project Management

5 Steps to Avoid Rescuing 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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Last week in Part 1 of our discussion on what happens when you rescue your project team members, we discussed a few of the problems that come with being the hero and doing the work for others. This week, in Part 2, discover how we avoid finding ourselves in the position of not delegating and ending up doing all of the the tasks we know we shouldn't be doing.

Ending the cycle of rescuing to drive higher performance

If you want to be a high performer, you must be able to deliver on the work that you are responsible for while still ensuring that your team is delivering on their commitments.  You cannot get caught up in the myth that your job is “fire fighter” for the team and that you are just being a “team player” by jumping in, rolling up your sleeves, and rescuing the team members each time work doesn’t get done. You must position yourself as the driver of IMPACT instead of the doer of all tasks. Here are a few techniques you can use to help ensure that the project overall remains successful while you maintain your sanity (and stop doing all the tasks you know darn well you shouldn’t be doing):

  1. Be firm.

When tasks are being assigned/accepted, be clear and be firm that the assignee will be held accountable for delivery AND that their manager will be kept abreast of all status updates to that work. Your job as a project manager is to ensure that those that are accountable for the work understand what to do, how to do it, and that they commit to getting it done. Then, you trust but verify that this work is getting done according to the commitments made. You aren’t being the bad guy by holding others accountable.

Many leaders struggle with this first step, trying to balance firmness and kindness. Always start with being clear and firm, then kind. This order is key because if you put kindness ahead of clarity, then you can easily send mixed messages when trying to sweeten the nice-factor.

  1. Clearly define roles and responsibilities.

You will have plenty of work to do on the project without doing other people’s tasks. Have a clearly defined roles and responsibilities chart that indicates what types of activities you do and what the other roles are responsible for doing.

This isn’t about showing your superiority. This is about clearly delineating the lines between what belongs to you and what belongs to every other project team members (sponsor included). Each person on the team has their role to play, just like an orchestra each playing instruments. If the conductor doesn’t do their job, the entire symphony falls apart.

There is real benefit in this step, so don't skip it. When you clearly define roles and responsibilities everyone knows what to do and everything gets done. People work together better when they understand exactly what their roles are. You will even find there is less energy wasted on things that don't matter.

  1. Put names (other than your name) on the tasks.

Project managers have this bad habit of assigning their name to tasks on a schedule if they don’t know who should be doing it. I strongly discourage this. Put the department name or the name of the manager of the functional area and allow them to be the one to tell you who should be doing that task. Unless it’s clearly in your area of responsibility, the task, risk, issue, decision or other update should not have your name on it.

Delegation of tasks to the appropriate team members not only benefits you, but it benefits the entire team. The team members and managers get a feeling of importance when tasks are delegated. Ensuring tasks are delegated increases the morale, confidence, and productivity of the project.

  1. Understand why work isn’t getting done.

Make sure you take the time to figure out why people aren’t getting tasks done instead of rescuing them when things aren’t getting done. Are they overloaded or have higher priorities? Talk to them and their manager. Are deadlines getting missed? Then do your job of modifying the timeline, getting other resources, or escalating the risks to the schedule to your sponsor. That’s the role of the project manager.

Ensure that step 3 above was done well. Did they fully understand the task? Did the team member confirm commitment? These are steps that are necessary to confirm accountability for the tasks that are delegated. Take steps to revisit the delegation process and avoid taking the task on personally.

  1. Take the time to teach and coach others.

If the challenge is that the work isn’t getting done because the responsible team members isn’t clear on what to do, you must make sure that they get the necessary training and development to be able to perform their role effectively.

If you are having trouble delegating the work because you feel like you “don’t have time” to show someone else how to do something, just remember it will always be your task if you don’t take time to show others how to do it.

As a leader of a project team, a part of your role is to help guide others toward finding their own solutions, managing their time more effectively, and coaching them to take responsibility for their work and commitments.

We all have more work to do than time to do it. Hold the role of project manager sacred and make sure that you set yourself up for success by being clear about the work that you are responsible for, how you will be measured, and how you will measure others and hold them accountable for the work they are responsible for on your project.

This will protect you, your credibility, and your sanity.

Thanks for taking the time to read this article.

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

See you online!



Posted on: February 19, 2018 07:59 AM | Permalink

Comments (11)

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Excellent article Laura.

You make some good points. I agree that step 1 is the challenging one. Being clear and firm sets the tone. Kindness follows at the end to show that you care about the team.

Good article, Laura and thanks for sharing

Thank you, Laura! Great points and supporting comments.

Thanks Laura for your valued guidance on this issue, I guess emphasizing the accountability and clarity are really key points here.

This may not go to well in an Agile or Scrum team environment. There's a fine line between rescuing and collaborating.

Point 3 might one of those points for which the significance is not truly appreciated.

A PM needs to learn how to delegate effectively. To constantly ask the question, "who would be best placed to complete this task?". This is often a gap for PMs coming through from project teams.

Very well put insight, Laura. Thanks.

Good Pointers Laura

Point 4 is an important one. It definitely will help find workable solutions rather than assuming without information.
Point 1 is sometime difficult as it requires clear understanding of the task and responsibilities and mostly there are overlaps.

Excellent article...

Thanks for the reminder. Well stated.

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