Project Practitioners > Everything Is On Fire!!!

Everything Is On Fire!!!

By Chris Cook, PMP

READ TIME: 5 minutes


We have all worked with individuals where every incoming task is an inferno. It must be attended to immediately with full force. It cannot wait. A tenant called about a follow-up, and since it was ‘missed,’ this must be addressed yesterday.

It does not matter that you reached out twice to the tenant with no response. It does not matter that the issue is a set of blinds that are broken. It does not matter you have a water heater that is out and a broken furnace at other properties. This blind issue must be addressed immediately.

The infernos do not stop there. The spreadsheet they asked you about needs to be done by the end of business that same day. Otherwise, they have no idea what is happening. They give you one task while you have 20 others going on so they continue to follow up on that one remedial task that is their life because it is the only thing going on.

They are busier than everyone else. They do not consider your situation or position. They need answers now, or else this entire place burns to the ground. This inferno is growing by the second. If you do not deal with it now, the consequences are endless.

When it comes from your team, the issue is not so bad. You can control the emotions a bit better with guidance and history. However, when it comes from the top-down, this presents a real problem. Senior managers should not add pressure to situations like everything is on fire. Project managers have enough to deal with outside of the added internal pressure.

So how can project managers deal with a superior who thinks the world is on fire at every turn?


Stay Up to Date

Often, these senior managers want current answers. If you have not reached out in a few days, they see that as lack of communication. Staying up to date provides them the answers in person they may not be receiving through their channels.

A system or portal may need to be updated so they have the answer they seek. If that portal remains weeks behind, they start to question progress and communication. Even if you have the answers available, they need to see those in the avenue they check for them.

Keep that in mind. It is worth the extra few minutes to update their system or send a quick email than to get an ear beating every time something appears off or behind.


Keep Perspective

Being more hands-on allows you to keep these items in perspective. If it has been raining for a week straight, do you think sprinkler system startups are crucial? Likely not. However, because there was a deadline set months ago and these systems are not getting completed, these inferno starters think Rome is burning.

Both you and the contractor have an understanding of the situation that the senior manager may not be aware of. Keeping perspective on what is important helps to keep these infernos manageable. You send a quick follow up with the senior manager involved so they feel included while the work will be delayed because of weather.

The work cannot continue to be pushed back, but it buys some time for all parties involved. Meanwhile, other things are happening that actually need immediate attention and can use your energy effectively.


Ask for Help

Sometimes, it is too much. You have talent, ability, skill, experience, and so on. But every so often, you run into the unmanageable or the tipping point. Ask for help. Ask for an extension. That spreadsheet that came to you with a critical message becomes unimportant when explained to that individual what else is going on.

The blinds that need to be hung because the tenant followed up becomes moot when you explain the lack of technicians available because they are repairing active leaks in the ceilings.

Asking for help also allows that individual to explain the information they need. You can read a request as a bulleted list of information is needed when all they want is a few line items. Turn their inferno into a small campfire.



When bad weather hit and sprinkler systems were started on a few properties, the senior manager explained to me how sprinkler systems across the metro area were going to burst, and we could not afford to take those hits. The cold weather was going to explode all started systems and cost us thousands.

Instead, one property had an issue, which may have been preexisting, and that was the end. See how this inferno mentality amplifies the already included stress and provides little to no answers on solving the problem. It magnifies the problem out of proportion without providing any of the helpful aspects of problem-solving.

It is a great way to destroy trust and build anxiety. Your job is to take that inferno, realize it is a matchstick fire, and take care of it as you normally would. Keep your systems up to date with current information that senior managers look at. Perspective helps maintain your sanity as you know this is not a big deal even though it is being made into one. If nothing else works, ask for help.

Do not be a firestarter, especially one who starts the inferno. Keep it mild.

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