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On Being Intrepid as a Project Manager


In an earlier age, someone might have been approvingly described as “intrepid,” from the Latin for “not alarmed.” Some naval vessels, including at least one aircraft carrier, have borne the name Intrepid. In the modern age, usage has deteriorated to the ironic or even humorous. Of course, that doesn’t make intrepid behavior—the ability to perform effectively under conditions of uncertainty in complex environments and difficult circumstances—any less valuable.

Conditions of Uncertainty (Risk Management)

The purpose of risk management is not to avoid all risks, but to allow calculated risk-taking based on a rigorous assessment of exposure and potential gain. Risk management provides the ability to make reasoned decisions under conditions of uncertainty, and separates the intrepid from the merely foolhardy. The intrepid are biased toward thoughtful action and avoid impulsive behaviors.

Complex Environments (Stakeholder Engagement)

On one level, the purpose of stakeholder engagement is to form alliances on behalf of the project team. But the role of project manager is not merely to serve the team, but to serve the interests of the organization that approved and funded the project, and the interests of society at large and the natural environment. We must be aware of the strengths and weaknesses of the organization, the team, and the business case for the project.

Projects expose us to criticism, constructive and otherwise. The intrepid manage to be thick-skinned without becoming insensitive to others, and they adapt their behavior to become more effective.

Difficult Circumstances (Financial and Resource Management)

All projects operate under constraints. Project managers learn quickly that the key to project success is the ability to manage scope, with one eye on the budget and schedule, and the other on quality and compliance. We are optimistic, but ready to act decisively on new information. Balancing change in one area with changes in another is part of actively managing, as opposed to simply following a plan. The intrepid pursue opportunities as they arise after assessing the risks and rewards. Just as importantly, when the expected benefits no longer justify continuing the project, the intrepid step up to recommend closing out the project. Completing a project after the reasons for initiating it are no longer valid is a foolish waste of scarce resources, and the intrepid are not wasteful.

Wisdom, like reputation, accrues to the successful. A few failures along the way needn’t destroy your career or credibility if you learn from them, move past them, and face the next challenge. Seek to learn from each success and failure, both your own and those of others. Be that calming influence at the center of action and conflict, opportunity and uncertainty. Be intrepid.


For more brilliant insights, check out Dave’s blog: The Practicing IT Project Manager

About Dave Gordon

Dave Gordon is a project manager with over twenty years of experience in implementing human capital management and payroll systems, including premises-based ERP solutions, like PeopleSoft and ADP Enterprise, and SaaS solutions, like Workday. He has an MS in IT with a concentration in project management, and a BS in Business. He also holds the project management professional (PMP) designation, as well as professional designations in human resources (GPHR and SPHR) and in benefits administration (CEBS). In addition to his articles and blog posts, he curates a weekly roundup of articles on project management, and he has authored or contributed to several books on project management. You can view his blog at The Practicing IT Project Manager by clicking the button below.

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