Want to be a great project leader? Proactively address stress!



What is stress?

Why is stress so common on projects?

Why should you care?

What can you do about it?


That’s what this blog is all about!



What is stress?


I find this definition useful


Stress is the result when the level of challenge you’re facing exceeds your mental and physical capacity


So the first thing to notice is that it’s a very individual thing.

  • What’s a challenge for one person won’t be the same for someone else.

  • How we feel about our mental and physical capacity is something only we can judge and can vary moment to moment.

This means that as a leader, you may not realise when something you think is easy will cause stress for your someone in your team.


But one thing that you are safe to assume is that

Projects are challenging, so they can easily lead to individual stress


The norm is often to assume that stress just goes with the project territory, right? We're all in the same boat. We all have to suck it up and get on with it.


But there are lots of good reasons for doing something different by tackling the causes of stress and providing support for your teams



Good reasons include...

  • having a duty of care not to cause any mental health issues for your team, including burnout,

  • having a reputation as an employer of choice, or a partner of choice,

  • getting better engagement in this and future projects.


People like to know they matter. That they’re not just “cannon fodder” being used to get the organisation what it needs irrespective of any personal cost to them.


If people know you have their wellbeing at heart and are taking steps to make sure they are ok, and their needs will be met, they will be more likely to make an effort for you.


If you make working on your project a good experience, people will be more enthusiastic about working with you the next time there's a need to implement change.


That’s really important if you're the IT team, transformation team, technology vendor or a consulting firm.


And the opposite is also true of course. Bad project experiences will put people off getting involved in future projects with you.


But there are a few more reasons why understanding and proactively addressing stress on projects is a good idea. Reasons that are more closely linked to achieving project success and the traditional project measures of sticking to time, cost and quality.


Projects need professionals, not emotional firecrackers


When people are stressed, their fight flight or freeze response is triggered, it's like a bear has entered the cave and is about to attack. That affects our behaviour and our performance. It’s like our logical brain has been hijacked and all we have left is raw emotion. Our responses are more erratic and this can cause wider issues and more stress for others around us, compounding the problem.



Projects need people who can think straight



When we get stressed, the blood moves from the part of our brain responsible for logical thought/higher level thinking and that makes it harder to think straight. Our decision making ability is impaired, we forget things and our IQ drops. That impacts our productivity and ability to perform our project tasks.


Disruption adds project risk


Ultimately, stress may lead to time off due to mental health issues or simply the need for a break to recover. People might start disengaging from the project, refusing to work the overtime required, taking more holiday. Or they may go off sick for a short or long period of time. Tragically, they may also end up leaving the project, or organisation, permanently.



This is obviously not good news for the individual but it's also bad for the project.


Any time off means at least a temporary gap in the project plan in terms of skills and task achievement. Extra time from others is needed to cover the gap or find a replacement. That puts pressure on delivery of the plan and on others in the team. That then increases the likelihood of more stress in the team and compounds the issue.



So what can you do?


Tackle the common causes of stress on projects

Projects don’t have to be as challenging as they often are. As a leader, you can do something about many of the common causes of stress. This blog outlines 11 reasons why projects are stressful. What could you do about them?


Be understanding

Projects are challenging and therefore can be stressful. Remember the impact that stress has on people and use that to be more understanding of people’s behaviour.


Encourage your team to ask for help

if they are finding their role challenging or feeling stressed. Make that the norm rather than sucking up the stress and carrying on regardless.


Provide support for your team

Do what you can to help the members of your team overcome their challenges and encourage them to take care of themselves.


Providing on-demand coaching is a great support option for the team.


Professional coaching gives people a safe, confidential, non-judgemental and independent space to let off steam and find solutions to their challenges at the point they need it. That prevents stress from ever really taking hold and gets people back on track quickly so they maintain productivity and perform at their best more of the time.


Addressing stress on your project is good for your team,

good for you, and good for your project.


If you want to explore on-demand coaching or how I can help support you and your team through your projects, please book a free call here.


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