How are your firefighting skills?

You don’t have to be a project manager to find yourself suddenly tasked with managing a project involving multiple people and many moving parts. “Being in charge” is a condition that can spontaneously break out in a number of entrepreneurial situations (especially ones involving me… for some reason).

Even if you think you’re flying solo as an author self-publishing your book, there are still other human beings that might be involved, such as, your editor, assistant, cover designer, copywriter, printer, and a marketing pro. 

Your ability to get all these people on the same page, working together as a well-oiled machine will impact your book launch experience, from your overall stress level, the amount of fun you have (yes, becoming an author is supposed to be fun!) and ultimately, the success of your book. And as the author, unless you designate someone else as “in charge” people will naturally look to you for instruction & coordination as your book comes together.

So, what happens when your book team doesn’t play well together? In this excerpt from my project management book Nuke the Elephant: From Freelancer to Project Ringmaster, I present a couple of my strategies for handling what I call, “project infernos.”

Surviving Infernos

“We’ve got a problem.”

If you’ve ever been in charge of anything, those four words are enough to make your heart drop into your acid-filled stomach and send your mind off to the races. Your brain starts scrolling through every recent event, conversation, and email, trying to anticipate what’s coming next.

“Worry is a misuse of the imagination.” ― Dan Zadra

The pause can wreak havoc on the imagination—especially an already-hyperactive artist’s imagination. Steel yourself.

Think back, for a moment, to the worst professional problem or crisis you’ve ever dealt with. Remember how you felt: that the world was crashing down around you, that everyone thought you were a failure, and that you’d never work again. Yet you’re still here.

Mistakes happen, fires break out, and sometimes they turn into infernos. As the project lead, you will always be the chief firefighter; this is a given. You can view this responsibility as a curse, or as an opportunity to save the day. With the right mindset (shoot for optimistic) and the right strategies in your project-management toolbox, odds are that most clients will call upon you again to take the reins of their mega projects. Because, honestly, there are surprisingly few people out there who have the willingness, ability, mental toughness, and moderate delusions of grandeur to successfully pull off mega successes while fighting mega fires.

✚ Firefighting Tip

Don’t miss the early warning signs. A scratchy throat and slight fever rarely don’t turn into a full-blown cold. Forgotten tasks, missed emails, mistakes, and un-returned phone calls at the beginning of a project usually don’t magically resolve themselves. Whether you’re dealing with vendors, team members, or even clients, these behaviors can act as wisps of smoke predicting future fires. Extinguish them early instead of waiting until you have a nine-alarm inferno on your hands.

Don’t panic (or everyone else will too). This seems a bit obvious: rookies generally look to the fire chief to find out how worried they should be about the blaze they’re about to fight. Yet, I have personally been guilty of the “leadership freak out,” and I’ve seen others in charge lose their wits too. Never forget that all eyes are on you. Everyone on the project is always looking for cues, whether through your words or actions, as to how the project is going – and whether they should be digging trenches or fleeing the flames!

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