5 steps employers can take to retain project managers

Project managers remain in high demand. Here are five things that employers can do now to retain their top project talent in the future.

Tips for how to become a project manager In this intro for TechRepublic's how to become a project manager cheat sheet, Alison DeNisco Rayome discusses what the job entails, why it's in demand, skills needed, interview questions, and more.

Project managers (PM) face many extreme demands on the job. This can lead to burnout, a sense of unappreciation or worse project managers may be tempted to move on to greener pastures if they feel dissatisfied. As demand increases for PM's, leaving one job for another may happen at any time.

This should create great concern for employers, who may unexpectedly need to replace their top project professionals. Here are five things employers can do now to help retain their top PM talent.

SEE: Recruiting and hiring top talent: A guide for business leaders (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

1. Avoid overloading your PM

Even the best project managers are not invincible. It's easy to utilize and often overgeneralize your top management talent. This may seem like the best choice to receive the desired outcome for your most complex projects, however, you run the risk of overloading and burning out your best performing project leaders. You also run the risk of underutilizing some of your less busy project managers who could be leveraged more.

Instead, make sure all of your project managers receive sufficient exposure to all responsibilities to balance the workload. It's important to allow your top PM talent less stress by assigning them to less intense projects once in a while. This allows you to more evenly cross-train all of your project managers and provide your organization with access to a larger pool of experienced talent, while not overloading and overtaxing just a few of them.

2. Don't assume they are happy

Many project managers recognize their impact on the overall morale of the company and understand the need to remain positive and put on a "good face" for their teams, sponsors, and other stakeholders. The trouble is, employers may make the assumption that what they see is what truly exists, and this can create a sense of complacency.

As an employer, it's important to keep in regular contact with your project management professionals to ensure that there exist no issues impacting their job satisfaction. Although your project managers are likely to remain the continent professional and push through to ensure that their projects are executed successfully; they could experience concern in some areas, yet not feel supported enough to say anything.

In fact, many project managers experience a great deal of responsibility to put the needs of others ahead of their own, sometimes to their own detriment. Take the time to regularly sit down with your project management professionals and keep up-to-date with the issues that impact their level of job and employee satisfaction.

SEE: Telephone interview cheat sheet: Project manager (Tech Pro Research)

3. Make sure your PM has a doppelganger

It may seem as though your organization simply can't afford redundancy when it comes to project management coverage, but the reality is you can't afford to ignore the potential risks if you don't. Often companies are short-staffed in areas such as project management, and while this may not present any issues, the risks can be significant if a project manager falls ill or can't fulfill project goals in entirety for one reason or another. Despite their level of commitment as a professional, project managers are human after all, and things happen. This doesn't mean you should hire a project manager that simply is bone idle, but it is a good idea to ensure that a project manager that might be working on a less complex or all-encompassing project is available and trained to step in for another potentially overloaded project manager, if need be. Having a doppelganger that can step in for one of your other project managers at any given moment increases the likelihood of meeting objectives for all projects. This also reduces the stress on your project managers and other stakeholders.

4. Don't compensate at the bottom of the pay band

Although you may be tempted to save a bit on your bottom line, underpaying your project manager(s) can lead to them feeling devalued and ultimately result in resentment and a higher rate of turnover. Yes, there are other factors such as company culture, job satisfaction, work-life balance, and so forth that determine turnover rates. Ultimately monetary compensation is still a significant factor.

Make sure to stay on top of salary trends for these in-demand professionals and demonstrate that you recognize their value in supporting your companywide objectives through project initiatives. Project management professionals are continually expected to lead and execute under sometimes extreme pressure. It's important to recognize that this type of top talent is always in high demand and it will likely cost you more, in the long run, to rehire and retrain new project managers than to better compensate and retain existing talent.

SEE: IT burnout: Causes and solutions (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

5. Develop a mandatory time off duration after each project

Project managers are sometimes their own worst enemy in terms of not recognizing signs of burnout. They often exist in a state of actual movement without recognizing that they need to stop and rejuvenate before the next project. Employers may also be guilty of this and continually schedule their top project management talent from one project to the next. This can lead to lower performance levels and risk the performance of an entire team well before project completion.

Developing a mandatory duration of time off after each project helps project managers to regenerate their minds and bodies before diving into the next project. This also helps to ensure they manage stress levels better, reduce sick time, sleep better, interact more positively, and improve overall performance. The period of time off doesn't need to be significant, it is simply meant to serve as a rest period.

By ensuring your project managers are not overloaded, happy, covered, well compensated, and have sufficient time to rest, you as an employer are doing things to help retain your top talent and improve project and company-wide performance.

Also see

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Image: demaerre, Getty Images/iStockphoto

By Moira Alexander

Moira Alexander is the Founder of PMWorld 360 Magazine and Lead-Her-Ship Group, and a project management and digital workplace columnist for various publications. Moira has 20+ years in business (IS&T) and project management for small to large busine...