Always have an exit strategy.
That advice is a truism for nonprofits, business owners and boards of publicly traded companies. All of them have a fiduciary duty to craft succession plans for key leaders. However, the adage equally applies to project managers. You don’t want to be stuck in your position for the foreseeable future – just as ambitious, capable members of your team deserve a chance to move up to the next level, even if that level is your job.
Project managers actually have it easier than a CEO does when grooming a replacement. There’s only one CEO, but most organizations have boundless numbers of projects, so your newly trained PM can become a colleague, not a competitor.
Why succession planning matters
Succession planning protects your organization by assuring a smooth transition from one leader to the next. And it can benefit your own career, as in you moving up the ladder or into a new meaty challenge of a job. After all, how often have you heard about someone getting a new position as soon as a successor was identified and trained?
To climb the career ladder, there’s no better recommendation than preparing your organization by having a successor in place. It shows maturity and confidence when you’re not afraid of welcoming someone to replace you. Likewise, succession planning can produce future allies — such as the team members you mentor and train. One potential downside: If you’re obviously grooming a successor, those who were not chosen might be resentful or discouraged. To minimize this from happening, tell team members how they can improve their skills to be selected the next time around, and maybe even why the person was selected (more experience is simply hard to argue with).
So how do you develop new leaders to take your job? Try these steps:
- Create a job description: Start with your own, but then add the soft skills needed to succeed, things that you have learned from doing the job, not just hiring for it.
- Train incrementally: Give a potential successor broader responsibility on projects, both for training and to test readiness. If your company has a formal training program, reach out to the training department.
- Create milestones: Formal or informal “milestones for readiness” signal to everyone when a successor is ready.
- Focus on future needs, not just the present. Link your succession plan to your organization’s overall strategic plan. You’re preparing for tomorrow, not today.
- Don’t choose a clone of yourself. It may make you more comfortable, but will it help your organization achieve new heights? Organizations need different leadership styles at different times.
- Don’t let a transition shock your team; signal it gradually. Communicate what’s coming down the pike well ahead of time and prepare people’s expectations.
- Have your replacement shadow you, and introduce the new PM to other managers and team members.
- Offer a full debriefing to your successor.
Finally, don’t be hurt if your successor doesn’t consult with you as frequently as you expect. After all, she is trying to establish herself in the job. For better or worse, some feel the best way to start a new position is to chart their own way. And it’s probably time for you to start looking ahead, as well.
How about you? Do you have thoughts, stories, and opinions about handing the torch to a successor? Tell us about it in our Comments box – we want to hear from you!