Imposter Syndrome in Project Management

Imposter Syndrome in Project Management

Have you ever thought that you are a fraud? Or that you hardly know what you are doing? Even if you have all the necessary qualifications, knowledge, and experience, you are afraid of others will realize that you shouldn't be there.

This is quite a common phenomenon, and if you have experienced Imposter Syndrome, you aren't the only one. In fact, there is a list of highly accomplished people who have been in the same position as you, so there is nothing to be afraid of. The important thing is to take actionable steps towards defeating this feeling and reclaiming your old self.

Imposter Syndrome: the definition

This is not a medical condition. It's a term that describes the feeling people have when they believe they don't know what they are doing. It's practically another word for self-doubt.

Let's imagine you have a big project ahead of you. The senior management dropped a lot of responsibility on your shoulder, and suddenly you feel like you are in the wrong place, at the wrong time.

Like you have stepped into someone else's shoes, or like it's the first time dealing with such a project. That feeling is what many people call Imposter Syndrome.

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Pauline Clance, a graduate student, first came up with this term because she thought she was never good enough. Even though she got good grades, Pauline believed that she didn't measure up to the achievements of others. In other words, Imposter Syndrome directly affects your confidence, undermining all the efforts you have managed to accomplish so far.

How common is it?

According to International Journal of Behavioral Science, nearly 70% of people feel like imposters. This feeling is shockingly common, even though it's not much talked about. Imposter Syndrome affects both men and women equally.

Many people feel like they don't measure up. For example, when you take on a new project or a new responsibility, you might be surrounded by people who are experts or who have been in a similar role for a longer time.

It might feel like they know everything while you are struggling to get the ropes. You will go through various feelings, from embarrassment and shame to worry and concern. All these reasons make people quiet about the Imposter Syndrome.

But, if you are brave enough to ask your colleagues, we're sure you'll find all of them have gone through the same situation.

The opposite of Imposter Syndrome

On the opposite side of the Imposter Syndrom sits the Dunning-Kruger Effect, or overconfidence, which isn't necessarily a good thing. We all have moments of ignorance and arrogance, just like we all have moments of insecurity and self-doubt.

Even though these two sit on opposite ends, the Dunning-Kruger effect and Imposter Syndrome are much more similar than they are different. Almost everyone has experienced the Dunning-Kruger effect. For example, a student decides not to study for the exam because the material seems easy, and then they end up failing or getting a lower grade.

In most cases, people who suffer from the Dunning-Kruger effect have issues with their peers and superiors. They are also "know-it-all" people, and they don't seem to recognize their flaws.

The causes behind the Imposter Syndrome

We believe that certain factors contribute to Imposter Syndrome. Some studies confirmed that it's linked to early family dynamics and gender stereotypes.

Family upbringing: according to the research, parenting styles, like controlling and overprotective, and family dynamics contribute to the development of Imposter Syndrome in children.

New opportunities, school, or work: entering a new role can trigger this feeling. For example, starting a new job may leave you feeling like you don't belong there.

Personality: personality traits such as perfectionism, low self-esteem, and neuroticism may lead to Imposter Syndrome.

Social anxiety: Imposter Syndrome and social anxiety may overlap. An individual with a social anxiety disorder may feel like they don't belong in a social situation, further fueling the Imposter Syndrome. However, that doesn't mean that all people with social anxiety will experience Imposter Syndrome.

Comforting someone with Imposter Syndrome

If you notice that someone is suffering from Imposter Syndrome, you should be there to support them every step of the way. They need to realize that they aren't alone.

These individuals need to know that many hugely successful people, both male and female, have been in the same position and struggled to cope with this feeling. Despite everything, they have managed to build amazing careers.

Another thing to look for is their inner perfectionist. This can be a major roadblock to overcoming Imposter Syndrome. Many people who have this feeling are usually high achievers, with extremely high standards for themselves, and are committed to doing the best work.

You need to help a person realize that perfection doesn't exist and that they should stop comparing themselves to some perfect outcome. Besides being contra-productive, perfectionism leads to disappointment.

Why do project managers suffer from Imposter Syndrome?

Managing a team is quite challenging; managing a remote team is even more difficult. That's why many project managers face issues and doubt their abilities.

Firstly, there is no "I" in a team. Employees are conditioned to avoid this personal pronoun when celebrating a team's success in many workplaces. The culture of shared success has become so widespread that many managers feel uncomfortable taking credit for their accomplishments out of fear they will appear ungracious and boastful.

Additionally, managers who experience an Imposter Syndrome have difficulty articulating why they were promoted. If they are not in touch with the assignments they are accomplishing well, they will fail to develop and grow in the right direction.

Also, the manager doesn't ask for validation and feedback, which is wrong. It's okay to ask people to tell you how good you are or how you can improve. There is always room for growth and improvement, and one of the best ways to learn is from failure.

Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

Don't be hard on yourself. When we feel like frauds, we usually take it out on ourselves. There is always that little voice in our heads telling us we won't deserve to be where we are. Take some time to think about all the things you have done and all the work you've accomplished to get you where you are today.

Focus on progress, avoid perfectionism. A bunch of managers experiences Imposter Syndrome because they are obsessed with perfection. If they believe that they haven't achieved 100% perfection, they believe they are phony. Try to focus on the bigger picture and set your sights on the finish line. Keep in mind that no one is perfect!

Identify the problem. To overcome your Imposter Syndrome, you need to admit that you have it. Even though this might seem scary, ask yourself what bad things could happen from just admitting that you have a problem.