Project Practitioners > The Unconventional Project Manager

The Unconventional Project Manager

By Chris Cook, PMP

READ TIME: 5 minutes


‘Tis the season. The holidays are upon us. Friends and family get together. People are traveling to experience the joys of the holidays.

You arrive at the party and immediately see a more successful individual. This person could be your brother or sister, an in-law, or a friend of a friend. The star of the show starts to talk about great adventures and business travels while you check out the available snacks.

When the conversation turns to what you are doing, you ramble off the same story you have told the last three holidays. Working the same job. Watching the same shows. Trying to survive the next few hours.

I tell this story to give an outlook on the outcast of the bunch. Everyone else seems to have their ducks in a row. The job is going well. The family is healthy. The new year brings big changes. Meanwhile, your story gets lost in the shuffle.

Your wheels continue to spin. You have a passion and an outlet but no interest. Where you see opportunity, others see certain failure. Your treasure is another person’s trash.


Peter Diamandis, in his book Abundance, gives us the following story:

Circa 1900, two salesmen from Britain go to Africa to explore new markets. After a week, each writes a letter home. The first salesman reports: “Prospects are terrible. No one here wears shoes. I’m on the next boat out.” But the second salesman sees things differently: “This place is amazing. Market potential almost unlimited. I may never leave.”

Being different should be sought after, not avoided. You are an unconventional project manager. Here are some different ways to approach sensitive topics to help you stand out:



Conflict is a topic people tend to minimize. No one wants conflict. Groupthink is encouraged. It creates a perception that everyone is on the same page. As an unconventional thinker, embrace conflict. Even the Project Management Institute states conflict is good with one constraint; you must manage it properly.

Unsupervised conflict creates divisions. Well managed conflict leads to breakthroughs. Diversity in thought naturally lends itself to conflict. Differing opinions and experiences are shared. Amongst the differences lie a throughline that connects them all.

The goal remains a solution to the problem. None of these suggestions are meant negatively. They are brought up to enhance the discussion. To delegate and mediate, you must find the nuggets of gold within the muck. They do exist. A conventional thinker would throw these suggestions out because they do not fit the norm. You, being unconventional, find the simplest truths and apply them to the goal.



Confidence can border on arrogance. The line is not well defined leading to subjectivity. You cannot please everyone.

An example of confidence is the white rabbit. In nature, rabbits tend to be brown for camouflage. They can hide in the woods amongst the leaves avoiding predators. However, white rabbits exist in nature. The disadvantage of sticking out like a sore thumb means they have obstacles to endure far more often.

However, if you see a white rabbit alive, he or she is doing something right. Imagine the minutely struggles this animal faces that normal, brown rabbits do not. Unless there is snow on the ground, this white rabbit is constantly visible, yet no predator has clamped down to make him or her their evening snack.

Be the white rabbit of your organization. Stick out in such a way that people notice you at every turn. Do not blend into the crowd because that is the easy way. People will find you annoying, arrogant, and tiresome, but those same individuals are not the ones who concern you. They are playing it safe while you are trying to make a difference.


What this looks like:

You arrive at your office at the normal starting time. You have a meeting in an hour to discuss next steps to meet the client’s needs. You have the three bullet points the client is looking for but no idea how to get there.

Before the meeting, you send out an email with the three bullet points listed to give your team a heads up. You have provided them time to think about ideas and bring them up in the meeting. As soon as the meeting starts, there are already differing opinions based on each other’s experiences.

You let this discussion play out with very little interruption. You take all of the ideas into account and take notes as to your thoughts. Again, embrace the conflict. Manage tempers should they flare and mediate when necessary.

Now that you have your solutions, take them to your bosses. No matter how ridiculous one or two of them may seem, generate the discussion. Do not be afraid of criticism. Remember, you are the white rabbit delivering the unconventional thoughts people do not expect.

As I have learned, ideas do not go stale. There is no expiration date. Today, the idea seems impossible. Six months from now, suddenly it can be done.

As a word of caution, white rabbits may not survive longer than brown rabbits, but their impact will be far greater.

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