Stay on Top of Work With Margaret Meloni!
We’re back with another episode of our podcast on how to stay on top of your work.
In today’s episode, I had the honor to talk to Margaret Meloni. An inspiring person in the project management world. Margaret is a certified PMP, and Ph.D. candidate a the University of the West in Rosemead, California. She helps people become “the best project manager that you be.”
Listen to today’s episode and learn why you should be a good listener if you want to become a good project manager and leader, why respecting your team is one of the best tools, what is the saying “If the answer isn’t heck yes, then the answer is heck no” about but also, what was Margaret’s way to becoming a professional project manager!
Enjoy the podcast and let me know in comments what you think about Margaret’s tips!
Kate: Hi guys, this is Kate, back again! In today’s episode, I’m going to talk to Margaret Meloni about being a good project manager.
Margaret is a certified Project Management Professional.
She helps people in becoming Project Managers with her valuable lessons. So if you feel like you want to become a professional PM or are looking for inspiration, you’re in the right place.
Hello Margaret, how are you today?
Margaret: I’m doing very well, thanks so much!
Kate: That’s great. I’m very happy to have you here today with me and I’d like to begin with asking you the question how did your way to the project management look like? How did it happen that you became a person who teaches others how to become a leader or a project manager?
Margaret: Well, first I wasn’t a project manager and I became a project manager by accident. Some people who know me have already heard me saying I’m an accidental project manager. And that’s not my own phrase I got it from someone else. But it means that I didn’t know I was gonna be a project manager. I actually started my career many years ago as a computer programmer. And I wanted to be in some kind of leadership role and I didn’t really know what that was and to be honest I got a little frustrated and I gave up and I thought, well, I’ll just code, I like coding so I’ll just code forever, until I retire. And then one day I was offered this job and the job was to help a group of people through some data conversions and I wasn’t supposed to do the programming, I wasn’t supposed to be a technical lead. I was supposed to help this group of people finish something by a certain date. And at that company at the time project manager was new so not all of us knew what it was, but one day in a meeting somebody looked at me and said, well, you’re the project manager and so that’s when I learned my title. So I fell to it by accident but I liked it and when people started calling me a project manager I thought I’d better go figure out what this is. And so I read and took some classes and eventually got my PMP and that was my beginning.
Kate: That sounds interesting!
Margaret: It was fun!
Kate: So there are many people who want to become project managers. But it’s not always easy. What tips would you give to a person who wants to become a project manager or a good leader?
Margaret: Well, the first thing is I would say, if you’re currently employed, look for opportunities with your employer, go to the person you work for, express your interest, and ask for some opportunities to manage part of the project or to manage a smaller project or two to get yourself started. If you have a project management institute chapter around you, and they’re all around the globe, so possibly you do, go to the project management institute meetings and get to know people who are already project managers. Possibly, select one as a mentor and some project management institute chapters have a mentoring program. If you don’t think that you’re going to be able to act as a project manager in your own current organization, do some voluntary work where you can lead some projects and get some experience leading some projects outside of work. So there are quite a few ways to do that and then I wouldn’t be a good instructor of project management if I didn’t say – and get some training too.
Kate: When it comes to trainings and all that stuff you mentioned, do you think it’s really helpful in project management and how maybe thanks to these skills that we gain on that type of courses of trainings, how can we be a good leader and a project manager?
Margaret: Of course I’m gonna say training is useful because now I’m full time training in development and teaching. But, that being said, if you go and take a class and you don’t do anything with that, it isn’t a good use of your time. And s,o it’s good to take the class and look for courses where you’re asked to work and run projects even if it’s a case study, and you’re asked to work with other people on group projects. And when you take classes then really try to take what you’ve learned and start using it at work or in your voluntary work. And make sure people know that that’s what you’re doing. And that’s the best way to make your training useful. And now because I talked too much I forgot the second part of your question, so will you ask me the second part again? 😉
Kate: That’s fine, that’s not a problem! How to be a good leader and project manager, basically?
Margaret: Now that’s important, isn’t it? That is such a big topic and I’m sure as you talk to people, you’re gonna collect so many good leadership tips. One of the best ones, I think for me, is be a good listener. Be a good listener and in fact, this is on my mind because just the other day I read this little article online. It was on how a good leader speaks last. And I thought this was really helpful and the person who wrote the article even mentioned how this was a technique Nelson Mandela used to use. When he got together to talk about issue or plans or things, he would listen and he would give his opinion last. Now, I think some people, when they’re the leaders they think, “oh I’m the boss so my opinion matters the most and so I’m gonna tell everybody how it’s gonna be.” And that’s a choice and I’m not in favor of that choice, but the beauty f this approach is then if you sit back and you listen and let everyone else in the room speak, first, it also helps you think and gather your own thoughts and it helps you understand what your people are thinking, which then helps you pick the right way to communicate with them.
Kate: When we talk about speaking last, do you think it’s really important to respect other people as a project manager and have an open attitude toward others?
Margaret: I think it’s one of the best tools that you can have. I think that especially since many project managers are running projects and they have the responsibility but they don’t really have the authority, you’re not really the boss and a lot of times your best tool is influence and persuasion. Influence people when they want to be influenced by you. I mean, sure, there are some people who can just yell and say “just do it or you’re gonna be in trouble!” Again, not my favorite style of leading. But when people want to work with you and they want to support you and the project, that’s the best possible scenario. People like to feel heard. In fact, a lot of times when people are upset at work, it’s because they don’t feel heard or appreciated. So we wanna listen and also let people know we appreciate them.
Kate: That’s a really good tip! I have a question regarding young people who enter the market and the world of project management. What tip would you give to such people who are young and inexperienced? Because the world is harsh and difficult for young people especially because they don’t’t have any experience they don’t know how certain things work. So what would you say to such people who often give up because they don’t feel appreciated?
Margaret: Oh, you know, that is tough! I think this is something every generation has dealt with. It’s that generations in front of them sometimes talk to them like they’re kids, and in fact, as I’m saying that, when I was at my very first programming job after college I worked for a man who actually always called me kid and it really bothered me because I felt so disrespected. So one day I’ve let him know that I didn’t appreciate that and he did stop. So I’m gonna say don’t give up, don’t be intimated by people just because they’re older than you are. In fact, I know some people who unfortunately are intimated by people who are younger than they are so sometimes that person that you’re working with and look up to “wow, this person could be my mom or dad,” or something, at the workplace you’re colleagues. Now you want to respect the fact that they have been working longer than you have but let’s hope that they know more. But I will tell you one of my biggest disappointments when I was brand new was that people who were older than I was didn’t always act older than I was. But, again, you can find somebody who has been in the field for a while and seek them as a mentor, rely on their expertise. If you approach them in a way that you respect their experience they bring to it so they don’t think like… “ohhh you could be my kid and you’re trying to boss me around?” which shame on people for thinking that, right? So I mean, I think there’s so many different ways, everybody came from a place of no experience at one time. And hopefully people will remember that. And even some people that you look at and think, “oh, they’ve been working here forever”, some of us have restarted our careers more than one time. So you could be dealing with somebody who’s older but doesn’t necessarily have tons of experience.
Kate: That’s useful especially to me because I’m young and kind of entering the market and the business world. And I see how things work and it’s not always easy. So your tips are really valuable. I’d like to talk about managing, maybe time and people at the same time. Because at TimeCamp we solve problems with time management and we try to be as flexible as possible. And also, we adjust our tools and try to be elastic. How do you manage people and time? Do you somehow combine these two things?
Margaret: I think you have to when you’re project manager I don’t see how you can make a different choice and still be a project manager and be successful. One of the things that I do, and this isn’t the approach everybody will like, is I arrange my day so that when most people are in the office, I try to be available to them, now the challenge is that so many of us have millions of meetings. But I try to arrange it so that I am available for my team to talk to me and then during hours because some days you’re going to work overtime anyway and I’m not in favor in working overtime all over the time. But if there’s a time of day when I’m not gonna work anyway and most people won’t be working, that’s the time for me to work on things that I need to be alone but I feel like it’s not fair to other people to say, in the middle of the day, “hey, I need to be alone now, so I can’t talk to you”, because my job as a project manager is to remove obstacles from other people so that they can do or so I can help them do the work. And if I’m not available to move things out of the way so that they can make their deadlines, they’re gonna feel unappreciated. They’re gonna turn around and work on something else. They’re probably gonna miss their deadline. So that’s one approach.
I think it’s a good idea for all of us, I’m not gonna tell you anything new, everyday you should know what your 3 most important things are. One of the 3 things you can achieve each day. And if you can do more, awesome! But I think 3 is a good manageable list because. Think of your day, you have plans, you do 1 thing, then you get to do something else, etc. So if you know what the 3 most important things are that you need to achieve every day, and you’re committed to achieving those 3 things, and stay focused. I think when we talk about time management, the challenges most people have are distractions, not being able to focus on priorities, things like that.
Kate: I’d like to ask you about your inspirations. Because you have an MA degree in Buddhist studies, do you somehow apply the philosophy of Buddhism into your work?
Margaret: I think that the more and more I do, and I think we all bring who we are to our workplace. So yes, I’m a person who’s been studying Buddhism. And I’m actually working on my dissertation to earn my Ph.D., which hopefully I will finish this year. And so something that has emerged to me, I’ve always thought that the way we treat people is important and that can be true of a person whether you’re Christian, Muslim, a Jew, Hindu, a Buddhist. But I’ve always been interested in treating people well, and specifically in being compassionate. How can we as leaders be compassionate to one another? So that’s something that I definitely bring with me and I’m starting to talk about it more and more. Because to me that’s just an important thing.
Kate: Beside that, do you have any other inspirations and books that you read and would recommend to our audience?
Margaret: Actually, there are so many books that it is difficult. So here’s what I will say. I think it’s good to keep balance by reading business books but if you enjoy fiction, also reading some fan books. I’m a big fan of reading because I think it keeps you creative and it helps us have more varied vocabulary, I think it keeps us mentally sharp. So I think keep your reading balanced .That being said, something I’m reading right now that was recommended to me that’s pretty interesting is called The Four Tendencies and I believe it’s by Gretchen Rubin and it talks about how each of us handle responsibilities, the responsibilities that come from outside. And it’s almost like personality types but how you handle responsibilities. And I think it’s really interesting, and I think particularly interesting for project managers because it talks about, like there’s a person who is 100% always going to, if they said you’re going to do something they’re 100% sure they’re always gonna do it. Almost like a rules follower personality, there’s the rebel who’s like “I’m not gonna do anything anybody says even myself”, there’s the questioner who is gonna question why I should do things. There’s a person who feels obligated, who’s gonna take care of things for other people before they take care for themselves. And is the really interesting way of looking at ourselves and other people. So that’s what I’m currently reading and that’s why I’m bringing that up.
Kate: I’m definitely gonna check this out because it sounds interesting. I’d like to ask you, what is the number one rule without which you cannot imagine your work? Something you always apply to your work that’s really important to you?
Margaret: I appreciate this, I think it’s a good question. This is what I think, because I met at certain stage in my career, I’m a little bit older, been working in the field for a while, working for myself for a while. There’s a saying and it goes something like this: If the answer isn’t heck yes, then the answer is heck no. And what that means to me is, at this stage in the game, if I don’t love the idea of doing something, I’m probably not going to do it. So I’m going to take projects and discussions where I’m excited and I see the benefit, for example, talking to you today. I don’t talk to everyone, if I don’t think it’s a good fit or I can’t have a good conversation together, so there are times when it’s okay to say no.
Kate: I’m happy you said to this conversation because it’s really inspiring! So I have last question to you. This podcast is titled How To Stay On Top of Your Work? How do you stay on top of your work? Do you have any particular strategies or practices?
Margaret: Yes. And part of it does go back to a couple of things we’ve already talked about today. So it’s good because it’s a good summary! It’s always knowing my priorities at different levels. Priorities for my life, so I’m gonna drill this down. So in life I’m a person who is, has a career where I am helping other people become amazing project managers, I’m also working on my dissertation, I also have friends and family that I love to spend time with and so it’s about keeping those priorities clear so that one of them doesn’t become all consuming. And then within that it’s knowing for knowing for each of those what to expect to accomplish and knowing when. So that each day I know what are the 3 things that I need to accomplish that day. And then I have a clear understanding of how much I’m willing to give to each. And every week it could be different. Some weeks it might be that this week I’m really gonna work and not see anybody until the weekend. And some weeks it might be, I’m gonna take off in the middle of the day and have lunch with a friend. But it’s all that being clear about your priorities for me. It’s all about understanding those priorities.
Kate: That sounds great! Thank you very much for the interview, it was fun talking to you. I really enjoyed it. I wish you a lot of success and all the best. And thank you once more.
Margaret: Thank you for letting me talk to you and your audience and I wish you only good things.
Kate: And you guys make sure to follow Margaret and visit her website margaretmeloni.com. You can find more information about my amazing guest below this podcast but also in TimeCamp’s article on Top 83 Project Management Influencers of 2017.
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Stay tuned for the next episode in which I’m going to talk with Susanne Madsen!