Looking after your well-being in Project Management

By Elisabeth Goodman, 29th October 2019

The Autumn issue of Project, the APM’s (Association for Project Management) quarterly publication, carries a couple of articles on the very important theme of well-being.

Illustration from “Under Pressure” by Emma De Vita, in Project, issue 300, Autumn 2019, pp. 40-45

Working on life science projects can be a high stress activity

The APM commissioned some research by the University of Manchester, led by Dr Clara Cheung, amongst 184 global APM members.  The results, summarised in “Under Pressure” by Emma de Vita, in the Autumn issue of Project (pp. 40-45), indicated that the areas of “highest psychological stress are resources and communication, balanced workload, work relationship and job conditions”.

Working on projects can be extremely demanding and stressful in the Life Sciences sector that we work with at RiverRhee.

Our clients are often working on high stakes projects: ones that their clients expect them to deliver within very defined timelines and budgets.  Yet the nature of the science can make the outcomes (let along the timelines and budgetary requirements) very uncertain.  Added to this, it’s very common for a company’s client to change their mind about the nature or scope of their requirements – which again will have implications that may need to be negotiated.

In addition to this, most of the companies that we work with operate a matrix structure.  Whilst this will have many benefits in terms of flexible use of resources and expertise, it can lead to added levels of stress in terms of resource availability when crises occur, and lack of recovery time for the people involved.

Potential ways to look after your well-being in project management

The article by Emma De Vita, and another in the same issue of Project, by Mike Clayton (“Resilience means reaching for your oxygen mask first”, p.15) have the following suggestions:

1. Monitor your well-being and pay attention to the warning signs

Work stress can make itself felt in terms of both our physical and mental health through such signs as tiredness, headaches, stomach upsets, depression and anxiety.  We don’t have to be stoical about these, and acknowledging and choosing to do something about them is not a sign of weakness.

We can either do something ourselves to alleviate these through such things as:

  • planning and managing our work differently
  • ensuring we get enough rest, exercise, a healthy diet

or we can reach out to others to help us address the underlying causes.

2. Develop and use your support network at work and at home

We don’t have to deal with work pressures on our own.

Mike Clayton suggests spending time on tending our relationships outside work as a vital support network.

Project leaders can also develop their teams so that, in a high performance team everyone:

  • Is invested in the success of the project
  • Plays to their strengths
  • Puts as much emphasis on building relationship within the team as on getting the job done
  • Provides support for each other

Beyond that, as Emma De Vita suggests, your line manager, HR or GP are potentially there to help.

3. Set ground-rules for yourself and for your project team

A project leader’s approach will set the expectations and culture for how a team will operate.

Considerations for looking after each other’s well-being could include such things as:

  • Limiting e-mails to working hours
  • Using a flexible approach to meeting times to allow for travel times and home commitments
  • Thinking about how the project team can use technology to enhance its productivity

If you are a project team member, rather than the project leader, you may or may not have the scope to influence your team’s ground-rules.  But you may have more scope than you think.

4. Learning and development

Project and time management training might be available to you to address some of the other underlying causes of stress described at the start of this blog.

RiverRhee delivers training, workshops and one-to-one coaching in range of management and team member skills

If you don’t have the option of going on a course for these, then consider getting hold of a book, or an online resource.

You might find some of my other blogs on these subjects useful too…

See for example:


Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting., a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, with a focus on the Life Sciences. (We support our clients through courses, workshops and personal one-to-one coaching.) Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis. RiverRhee is a member-to-member training provider for One Nucleus.

Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner. She is a member of CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals) and of APM (Association for Project Management) in which she was a founding member of the Enabling Change SIG.

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