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Q & A Session with Neal Whitten

January 2017

Neal Whitten is a popular speaker, trainer, consultant, mentor and best-selling author in the areas of leadership and soft skills, project management, team building and employee development. He has more than 35 years of front-line leadership, project management and human resource experience. Neal recently hosted a “Let’s Talk” discussion for Apex employees to voice their questions related to topics ranging from professional development to leadership qualities. We compiled some of the questions below along with Neal’s responses.

Q1: As a project manager/coordinator, what is the best way to ensure project success after being added 2 months after project start?
Neal: First off, I would assess the project’s health. Are there any issues I need to know about? If so, I would start by addressing those issues and determining if those issues will affect the project’s success. If they will, it’s necessary to reevaluate the project timeline and/or objective. You should never commit to a project that is not achievable.

Q2: What are the top three skills a Project Manager can develop for success?
Neal: The first skill I would say is to develop your ability to manage to your top three problems/priorities on a daily basis. Learn to manage your time well. Start with a to-do list that you prepare the night before. Your top three priorities should never be on your list longer than few days. Learn how to keep them moving and progressing. Your career is defined by your ability to work through your top three priorities each day and your ability to solve them. The second skill I would say is crucial is to learn how to behave like a business person. You are a business person first and a project manager second. Always put your business hat on and make decisions based on if this were your business. The third is to learn how to be a good actor. Learn how to train your emotions and control your reactions to each situation and difficult person you may face.

Q3: How should I go about obtaining a mentor at my current place of work?
Neal: If you’re new to your organization, talk to your boss about what skills you are seeking to learn. Let him or her help you find what you’re looking for using established connections. Be aware though that if you single somebody out to be your mentor, that person is probably a mentor for many people. He or she may not have the time to take you on as well. Don’t let this deter you. Stay positive and focused and that person will likely find time to mentor you.

Q4: How do I stay positive in my career when working under poor and unprofessional leadership?
Neal : Take the high road. Be the role model you may be lacking. The definition of leadership that I like to follow is not about the ability of those around you to lead, but your ability to lead despite those around you. Be a problem solver instead of one who places blame.

Q5: As a manager, how do you handle technical people when they disagree?
Neal : That’s an interesting situation. Very bright people are so imaginative that they sometimes get so stuck in their route of thinking that they have a hard time seeing outside of it. If these two technical people have a team leader that is highly technical, I would ask them to resolve it. If not, I would invite 2-3 other technical people to join me in a meeting with these individuals to look at the issues and formulate solutions. These 2-3 other technical people would provide translation for me as I seek to understand technicalities that are not my specialty and would assist in identifying and communicating the best solution.

Q6: As a business analyst, how do I know if I should apply for leadership positions?
Neal: If you have an interest in growing and seeking new opportunities, start small. Volunteer for little things. Be a team leader of a team of a few people. Slowly inch your way there. Always keep in sight the person that you would like to become. Establish you stepping stones to get there, and keep diligent about looking for positions that involve those next steps.

Q7: How does a project manager transition to a program manager?
Neal: Great question. Project managers and program managers are very different. Project managers are accountable for a project. Program managers are accountable for a program of several projects. Program manager do not make final decisions on a project. They show guidance to project managers throughout the timeline of the project. Transitioning is a big step. I would suggest finding a mentor who has made the transition. As a program manager, make sure all project managers know what you expect from them. Clearly define their roles and show where they intersect.

Click here to hear the full session with Neal Whitten.



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