Check Your Stress for Your Health and Your Career


By Rebecca Winson, J.D., PMI Fellow

Idaho, USA


Opening my email I noticed an article in my American Bar Association electronic magazine — an article on workplace stress. The writer noted that many attorneys suffer from stress due to the pressures of the workplace. This article had me thinking about the project and program managers (PM) with which I have worked. Workplace stress is common to most professions, but as budgets have tightened and time to market has shortened in many industries, the stress a project or program manager is placed or places on themselves is increasing. While it is true that a project or program manager does not generally have a client’s financial future in their hands or their life, there are times that in managing a strategic project or program, the PM may have the company’s future in their hands in whole or in part. The PM may even have the current future career path of the executive manager, sponsor, or hiring manager in their hands.

Within the past ten (10) years, the push to have a project or program always on schedule and on or under cost has grown. Organizations believe that agile project management will cut costs and shorten schedules. PMs with certification are deemed to be competent, even though legally the certification at best demonstrates capability to be competent and at worse that the PM is a great test taker and not capable of applying the knowledge in an actual project or program. Organizations seldom establish mentorships for entry-level PMs. Instead, the PM may serve as an assistant PM on a project or program, but with little insight into the thinking and planning of the PM. I have written on the need for mentorship in the past, but it is becoming more critical. The reason one calls the act of being a PM, practicing project management is because each situation is new and unique. Something or more than one something about the project or program will be different. To practice a profession as in one I am familiar means that one receives critical input from a more experienced practitioner. One has in the more experienced practitioner a party with whom ideas can be reviewed before instituting any action or change; someone to review documents including planning and reporting documents; and someone to share their lessons learned. Being able to have a mentor to be a guide can lower the workplace stress and life stress of less experienced PMs, and, well, those PMs such as me who have many years of experience.

PMs should also be trained to handle stress filled situations. Delivering bad news to senior or executive management should not be an opportunity to create a lessons learned database that never is shared. Stress will rise once the PM is aware of issues or realized risk. The sooner it is shared with the client or management before they hear it from reports or others the less stress will be induced over a long period of time. Further, the PM should understand when to come prepared to discuss next steps or when to arrange another meeting. None of these skills come in training to take a certification test. They are lessons that can be learned either on one’s own, which comes with risk of varying degrees; or the lessons may be learned from an experienced PM within the organization or outside. For example, preparing the client or management about what could be risks on an ongoing basis is one way to lessen the impact of that stress-filled meeting.


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About the Author

Rebecca Winston, JD

Former Vice-Chair, Chair, Fellow – PMI®

Idaho, USA



Rebecca (Becky) Winston, Esq., JD, PMI Fellow, is a former Chair of the board of the Project Management Institute (PMI®). An experienced expert on the subject of project management (PM) in the fields of research & development (R&D), energy, environmental restoration and national security, she is well known throughout the United States and globally as a leader in the PM professional world. Becky has over 30 years of experience in program and project management, primarily on programs funded by the US government. She is a graduate of the University of Nebraska’s College of Law, Juris Doctorate (1980), in Lincoln, Nebraska and has a Bachelor’s of Science (BS) degree in Education from Nebraska Wesleyan University She is a licensed attorney in the states of Iowa and Nebraska, USA.

Active in PMI since 1993, Rebecca Winston helped pioneer PMI’s Specific Interest Groups (SIGs) in the nineties, including the Project Earth and Government SIGs, and was a founder and first co-chair of the Women in Project Management SIG. She served two terms on the PMI board of directors as director at large, Secretary Treasurer, Vice Chair (for two years), and Chair (2002). She was elected a PMI Fellow in 2005. She has served as a reviewer of the Barrie Student paper for the PMI Educational Foundation for several years. She is also a member of the American Bar Association and the Association of Female Executives in the United States.

Ms. Winston periodically serves as an advisor to organizations such as the National Nuclear Security Administration (USA), U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on topics ranging from Program and Project Management to project reviews, risk management and vulnerability assessments. She has also been serving on the Air Force Studies Board for five years for the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine. Since 2008 she has also served in the capacity of Chair of the US Technical Advisory Group and Head of Delegation for Technical Committee 258: Project, Programme, and Portfolio Management, as well as serving on the various Working and Study Groups drafting guidance standards. She has extensive recent PM experience in the areas of alternative energy, national defense and security, and has worked closely with local, regional and national officials, including Congress and the Pentagon. She is also a global advisor to the PM World Journal and Library.

Becky can be contacted at [email protected].